Monday, April 27, 2015

Ex-Berrien commissioner sentenced for embezzlement

Wooley receives nearly 3-year term in prison
Christine Cox

Robert Wooley

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 11:30 am | Updated: 1:32 pm, Tue Apr 21, 2015.
By Debra Haight Tribune Correspondent

ST. JOSEPH — Former Berrien County Commissioner Robert Wooley was sentenced to a minimum of nearly three years in prison after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $300,000 from the North Berrien Senior Center,  where he was the director.

Wooley, 62, of Coloma was sentenced Monday by Berrien County Trial Judge Sterling Schrock. Wooley, who according to his attorney has a gambling problem, had pleaded guilty in March to two embezzlement counts and resigned his position as a county commissioner at that time.
Berrien County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Smith said Schrock imposed a sentence of 34 months to 20 years in prison and ordered Wooley to pay $317,000 in restitution on the embezzlement over $100,000 charge involving the senior center.
Wooley was also sentenced to a concurrent jail term of 120 days for attempted embezzlement over $20,000 and less than $50,000 involving money taken from the North Berrien Fire and Rescue department. Restitution was reserved in that case as there is still a question as to how much he owes.
Wooley also faced a contempt charge for violating bond conditions by visiting the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City four times in recent weeks. Smith said Wooley was arrested April 10 after video from the casino showed him there on April 9 and reports from other people put him there on three previous days. The sentence on the contempt was one day in jail.
Smith reported that Wooley apologized and said the situation got out of control. He said he would pay the money back over time.
While Wooley didn't admit directly to having a gambling problem, his attorney, Andrew Burch, said Wooley has a problem with gambling. Wooley told Judge Schrock that he had done good things during his tenure at the senior center and that his embezzlement hadn't hurt the center's operations directly but had dwindled the center's reserve funds.
Smith said Schrock sentenced Wooley to a term that was in the middle of the sentencing guidelines of 30 to 50 months in prison. Schrock noted that a prison sentence was also warranted to deter others from doing similar acts. He added that unlike drug addicts who try to get help for their addictions, Wooley had never stopped or tried to get help.
For her part, Smith said she was satisfied with the sentence.
"I think it was a fair result," she said. "We agreed with the probation department, who recommended a 36-month prison term. He lived all of his adult life as a law abiding citizen and he's done a lot of good things. I think this is fair. This is huge for someone of his age to be going to prison for the first time."
Wooley was the director of the North Berrien Senior Center, which serves Coloma and Watervliet, from 1996 to last year. He was also treasurer of the governing board of North Berrien Fire and Rescue. He represented the Coloma and Watervliet area on the county board before his resignation.
A press release from the prosecutor's office in December stated the investigation showed that funds from the senior center operating accounts were forwarded to an investment account in the name of the center with Wooley as an authorized signor.
"The center’s board was unaware of the existence of the investment account," the release stated. "Records indicate funds were transmitted from the investment account to Wooley’s personal account over the course of the years 2007 to 2014."
Smith said it's believed that Wooley embezzled money from the senior center and then took money from the fire department to cover up some of the money he had taken from the senior center. The fire department embezzlement was discovered more recently and a final number on how much money was taken hasn't been determined.