Beeson Street embezzler sentenced to jail

In spite of facing jail time and a hefty amount of restitution for embezzling months worth of lottery tickets from his former employer, Dowagiac’s Daniel Lee Rife didn’t just ask for leniency on his sentence in his statement to Judge Michael Dodge Friday morning — but also forgiveness from his old coworkers and friends.

Daniel Lee Rife

Daniel Lee Rife

“It’s those friendships that I need most to keep going,” Rife said. “I just can’t apologize enough for what I’ve done to my friends.”

Whether or not Rife will be able to settle things with his personal relationships is still up in the air — but what is certain is that he must make things right with his former employer and the public.

Judge Dodge sentenced the 64-year-old Dowagiac man to 180 days of in jail and two years of probation during his sentencing hearing that morning in Cass County Court, for a single charge of embezzlement over $20,000 and under $50,000. He was also ordered to pay more than $36,000 worth of restitution to the victims of his theft, Beeson Street Bar.

The embezzlement charge, which the defendant pleaded guilty to on Jan. 11, stems from a period of thefts Rife made at the bar from May to October 2015. As part of his responsibilities, Rife would come in on Sundays, when the bar is closed, to perform maintenance work. Taking advantage of the fact that he was normally the only person in the building those days, the Dowagiac man would print out the bar’s lottery tickets without paying for them, cashing in the winners, Dodge said.

“There’s no other way to describe it other than it’s stealing from your employer,” Dodge said. “That’s what you did by embezzling these funds. You victimized [Owner Tom] Burling and, quite frankly, the other people at the bar. The establishment suffers because of the money you took from the bar.”

Burling appeared in the courtroom that morning, following the judge’s statement about the negative impact Rife’s embezzlement has made on the business, saying he can’t give out things like pay raises due to the loss. Burling was also hurt by his former employee’s betrayal, saying that he deeply trusted him as a friend for 45 years.

“I don’t want any ill will toward Danny, but on the other hand he has to be sentenced for what he has done,” Burling said.

While Chief Assistant Prosecutor Frank Machnik asked the judge to impose the six-month jail sentence recommended by the department of corrections, Rife’s attorney, Greg Feldman, asked for his client to be given a straight probation sentence so he could more easily begin making payments on the thousands of dollars of restitution he owes.

“He needs to be able to get out and try to find a way while on probation to get a job so that a significant portion of his income moving forward can go to paying off the bar and the insurance company,” Feldman said.

Dodge sided with the prosecution, however, stating that a jail sentence would serve as a deterrent for others considering similar actions in the future.

“It’s difficult for people to forgive and forget under these circumstances, but if your apology is followed through with some positive actions like trying to make good on the losses suffered, that can go a long way to softening people in terms of their willingness to forgive you,” Dodge said.

Rife was given 96 days credit for time already served behind bars.

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