Former sheriff’s department lieutenant reaches plea deal in embezzlement case

Published 12:48 pm Wednesday, November 30, 2022

NILES — A trial set for next week involving alleged embezzlement from a Niles area youth wrestling organization is off after the person charged accepted a plea deal. 

Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Kate Arnold reported that Trent Babcock pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of false pretenses $200 to $1,000 which is a one year misdemeanor. She said that sentencing has been scheduled for Jan. 23 in Berrien County Trial Court. 

Monday’s hearing began with Babcock initially waiving his right to a trial by jury, opting instead to have a bench trial before Berrien County Trial Judge Sterling Schrock. The trial had been set to start next Wednesday, Dec. 7. 

Babcock had been charged with three counts of embezzlement $1,000 to $20,000, a five year felony, stemming from alleged incidents dating back to 2017. He was arraigned on the three felony counts April 27 and subsequently waived the holding of a preliminary hearing. 

Court records indicated that a police investigation began March 1 into the alleged embezzlement from the Niles Wrestling Club. The wrestling club is described as a wrestling organization in Niles set up for young wrestlers to travel and compete in competitions. 

Police issued search warrants to look at bank records and conducted interviews with witnesses. Babcock was a wrestling coach with the club and is alleged to have control of the club funds at United Federal Credit Union from 2016 to present. 

A co-signer on the wrestling club accounts confirmed that she and Babcock were the only two signers on the account and Babcock was the only one with an activated credit/debit card for it. 

Police found a total of 36 unexplained transactions from 2017 to 2022 totaling $11,514.23, according to the police report. Transactions listed in the police report included purchases of auto parts, fuel, equipment rentals and cash withdrawals. 

This isn’t Babcock’s first run-in with the law. He was charged with retail fraud in 2017 for shoplifting items from the Niles Wal-Mart when he was a Berrien County Sheriff’s Department lieutenant. He pleaded to a misdemeanor retail fraud count and was ordered to pay fines and costs.  

It was that conviction that led Sheriff Paul Bailey to fire him. Bailey reported at the time that the termination came after an internal investigation. Babcock had been an 18 year veteran of the department, stationed primarily in Niles Township.