Centreville treasurer arraigned on embezzlement charges

CENTREVILLE — A Centreville public official was arraigned on embezzlement charges in St. Joseph County 3B District Court Thursday.

Carol Kotschevar, Centreville’s village treasurer, entered a plea of not guilty to two counts of embezzlement over $20,000 but less than $50,000 in two separate but similar cases from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Colon and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Centreville. The alleged embezzlement occurred in Kotschevar’s role as the Centreville church’s treasurer.

Kotschevar was arrested on March 5 following a year-long investigation by the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department into the alleged embezzlement. She later posted bond and was released the next day. Bond conditions were continued following the arraignment.

According to a probable cause affidavit filed in District Court by Sheriff’s Department Det. Sgt. Chad Spence, in the course of four years between December 2015 and December 2019, approximately $39,605.28 in cash was allegedly misappropriated by Kotschevar from St. Paul’s in Centreville, including $31,500 in e-payments made from the Colon church’s account.

The alleged charges and payments included a $1,759.84 charge for the Hilton Singer Island in Singer Island, Fla. on March 24, 2018, a $68 charge to Fiebig Jewelry in Sturgis on May 9, 2019 as well as other purchases at Macy’s, Best Buy, Pier One Import and PayPal Ipsy, a $2,216.66 charge to wedding planning company Fleurology Designs of Grand Rapids on May 14, 2019, and an $11,388 charge to City Flats Hotel in Grand Rapids on June 14, 2019. The latter two charges, Spence detailed, were related to a wedding for Kotschevar’s daughter.

Other charges included $3,573.27 to Meijer stores in Three Rivers, Sturgis, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Battle Creek, mainly for grocery items, alcohol and other household items.

If convicted, Kotschevar could face 10 years in prison and/or a $15,000 fine, or three times the amount embezzled.

According to the affidavit, Spence was first notified about the situation by Mark Trowbridge from the Centreville church on March 2, 2020. Trowbridge told Spence he was contacted by the Colon church asking about a Chase Bank credit card in the St. Paul Lutheran Church name. Trowbridge told Spence he had several Sturgis Bank and Trust statements which ranged from December 2015 to December 2019, which had over $30,000 in Chase e-payments from the Centreville church account.

Trowbridge told Spence there was a credit card in Carol’s name and believed there were credit cards in Pastor David Grimm’s name. The church did not authorize Kotschevar to obtain credit cards with the church’s name on it, according to the affidavit. Trowbridge told Spence he had spoken to Kotschevar, who at one point stated, “she would be willing to take out a mortgage and pay the amount back that she owed the church.”

According to the affidavit, Trowbridge told Kotschevar she needed to get an attorney. Trowbridge told Spence he attempted to get files and the checkbook Kotschevar had for the church, but there were none. According to Trowbridge, Kotschevar allegedly told him her husband was supposed to have those files, and her husband threw them away, not knowing they were church files.

Kotschevar’s position as the Centreville church’s treasurer was ended in 2019/2020, according to the affidavit.

Trowbridge told Spence the Colon church had also filed a complaint with the Colon Police Department about the same issue, adding that the Colon church did not have a credit card in their name, and that it was the Centreville credit card, which had over $30,000 in e-payments from their account in Colon to the Centreville card.

Spence, according to the affidavit, then made contact with Colon Police Chief Mark Brinkert, who provided him a letter from Denise Smith, the Colon church’s treasurer. In the letter, Smith stated she had found e-payments from their account to Chase totaling approximately $31,500. Smith stated in the letter she had asked Kotschevar for files of invoices, bank statements and “anything that would help her get up to speed,” according to the affidavit, but stated there were missing files and she did not receive anything.

Smith’s letter stated she went to Sturgis Bank and Trust and asked for bank statements as far back as 2015 and found “several” credit card payments in the “other debit” section were made, and stated she was unaware the church had a credit card. Smith stated she talked with Kotschevar, who confirmed the Colon church didn’t have one, but Centreville did.

In that conversation with Smith referenced in Smith’s letter, Kotschevar allegedly told her she would use the credit card “when their funds were low at Colon and could not pay their bills,” and then she would “get it back later when some money came into Colon.” Smith called Trowbridge, who told her he was not aware of a credit card being used to help Colon pay bills. Smith’s letter also stated she observed that at no time did the Colon church’s bank account slip so low they could not pay bills.

Smith stated in her letter she and three other church members met with Kotschevar at the Colon church, where Kotschevar turned over the checks and current months’ invoices. According to Smith, one person asked about the audits that have been done on the church’s account. Kotschevar reportedly replied that the audits “didn’t mean anything because ‘she knows how to fix an audit.’”

Smith added it “became apparent” that not only was the church paying Kotschevar’s personal charges on a credit card, but that the church was paying her a wage “while she was emptying out their bank account,” according to the affidavit.

Spence’s affidavit said a forensic audit was done by Travis Blum, a forensic auditor at Constantine’s Blum Accounting. Spence concluded that based on the documents reviewed, information collected, and interviews conducted by Blum, it was determined “there was misappropriation of assets at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.”

Kotschevar’s attorney, Kurt Richardson of Kalamazoo’s David G. Moore law office, did not respond to a request for comment on the case as of press time.

Kotschevar is scheduled for a pre-exam conference on Tuesday, April 13, and a preliminary hearing Tuesday, April 20 at 1 p.m. in 3B District Court. The April 20 hearing is expected to be heard by District Court Judge Robert Pattison.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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