Howard Twp. embezzlement results in probation term

Published 9:26 am Monday, December 7, 2015

A Niles woman who embezzled nearly $30,000 from Howard Township will serve an extended term of probation while paying back the money she stole from her former employers.

Judge Michael Dodge sentenced 45-year-old Christine Nichole Mahar to three years of probation during her appearance in Cass County Court Friday morning, on a single charge of embezzlement of more than $50 by a public official. Dodge also ordered Mahar to pay more than $28,000 worth of restitution to the township.

Mahar had pleaded guilty to the embezzlement charge during an earlier appearance in court on Sept. 17.

According to the judge, Mahar repeatedly stole money deposited for tax payments as well collected health fraudulent insurance payments made out to herself while serving as an office assistant with Howard Township from January 2013 and August 2015. Her embezzlement activity was discovered by investigators with the Michigan State Police department in August, which began looking into the case after a pair of township employees discovered discrepancies with their financial records.

Detectives determined that Mahar had taken more than $26,000 worth of funds during that two year time period, Dodge said.

“This embezzlement didn’t involve one impulsive action where someone steals a bit of money,” Dodge said. “They were perpetuated over a long period of time, and involved a lot of individual decisions to steal. …You had plenty of chances to stop, but you didn’t,” Dodge said.

Appearing before the court Friday was Howard Township Supervisor Craig Bradfield, who said he and other officials were shocked that Mahar, who worked for the township for 12 years, would wind up stealing from them.

“Mahar was trusted by our residents, the taxpayers and her fellow employees,” Bradfield said. “Her betrayal was a wakeup call for us.”

Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz, in his remarks to the court, requested that Dodge go beyond the probation department’s recommendations and tack on additional jail time to Mahar’s sentence, saying that her behavior was unbecoming of a public official.

“You need to trust people who are put in these positions,” Fitz said. “When they betray that trust, there needs to be consequences.”

Mahar’s attorney, Daniel French, said that his client’s actions weren’t driven out of greed but desperation, as the Niles woman’s husband lost his job around the time she began embezzling from the township. French argued the judge should follow the recommended sentence, saying Mahar had suffered a great deal of shame and embarrassment as a result of her conviction.

Mahar also spoke on her behalf, apologizing to her former coworkers and to township residents for her actions.

“I’m not a criminal,” she said. “I was just in a hard place.”

The judge agreed with the recommendations for a straight probation term, given Mahar’s clean prior record and the fact that she would be able to get a faster start on paying off the sizable sum she owes to the township, he said.

“You have to comply with these probation terms, and you need to make restitution within your ability to pay,” Dodge said. “If you don’t, there will be more severe consequences.”

Also sentenced Friday:

• Scott Canizares, 22, of Benton Harbor, to two years of probation for conspiracy to commit second-degree home invasion, attempted second-degree home invasion and possession of marijuana.

• Tyler Dean, 22, of Vandalia, to two years of probation and 150 days in jail for breaking and entering a building with intent, larceny in a building and possession of marijuana.

• Derek Rutledge, 25, of Cassopolis, to two years of probation and 30 days in jail for delivery/manufacture of a controlled substance and delivery/manufacture of marijuana.

• Sean Shaffer, 23, to two years of probation for possession of methamphetamine and possession of cocaine.