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Prosecutor talks to Sebewaing village council about embezzlement case

By Traci L. Weisenbach
For the Advertiser
SEBEWAING — Huron County Prosecuting Attorney Timothy J. Rutkowski shared information with the Sebewaing village council last week about the embezzlement case against the former Light and Water Department employee. One of the items he talked about was the sentence the former employee could face.
According to sentencing guidelines set by the state, Michele Harbuck, who has pleaded no contest, likely will get up to nine months in jail and will need to pay restitution.
Harbuck, who had worked for the district for more than 20 years, is charged with embezzlement by an agent/trustee greater than $1,000 but less than $20,000.
The investigation by the Michigan State Police included an audit of records between Aug. 1, 2009, and May 30, 2012, that revealed a net cash shortfall of more than $42,000 – more than double the amount listed in the charge. However, the maximum amount listed in the charge will not limit the amount the village can seek in restitution, Rutkowski said.
He noted if he would’ve charged Harbuck with embezzlement of up to $40,000, it would not have affected the maximum sentence – it would’ve been the same as the charge to which she has pleaded.
“The most important thing is that there should be a felony on her record – this is a serious offense,” Rutkowski said.
The sentencing guidelines take into effect a number of factors, including the offense itself, prior criminal record, the number of victims, whether there was a weapon involved, whether the person was on probation when the crime was committed, etc., according to Rutkowski.
“The judge usually does not exceed the sentencing guidelines,” he said.
As for restitution, village officials wondered if restitution also could include the amount the village paid for the audit as part of the investigation. Rutkowski said he believed it could. The decision will be up to Huron County Circuit Court Judge M. Richard Knoblock.
Trustee Sami Khoury said there are some financial records missing that could shed more light on the embezzlement case.
“What happened to those records? Maybe (Harbuck) has an idea,” Khoury said.
Rutkowski said Harbuck’s attorney, H. Dale Cubitt, could ask her that question. He noted for determining restitution, there has to be proof of what was lost. Therefore, without those missing records, the village cannot prove if more restitution is needed.
Rutkowski said Knoblock does take into consideration the impact on the victim, which in this case is the Village of Sebewaing. He said it is more compelling if the victim actually speaks at the sentencing. However, a written letter also works, and Rutkowski said he would be happy to read a letter from the village.
“I believe someone will be there,” said Trustee Don Beers.
Sentencing is scheduled for 1:30 Oct. 9, Rutkowski said.
In other business during the meeting Monday, the council:
• Heard from Interim Light and Water Superintendent Dennis Collison that he has received one application so far for the superintendent position. He said the posting has only been up for five or six days. He’s hoping for more applicants in the coming week. He said he didn’t include a deadline by which applicants have to submit their resumes.
• Talked with resident Jerry Fritz, who shared interest in forming a Parks and Rec Committee that would include interested people in the village. The committee would meet to talk about park renovations and would work on raising money. Council members gave Fritz their blessing, saying the committee would not have to report to the council unless it wanted to do a major project.
“We all want to see our parks get better,” said Village President Paul Engelhardt. “It’s a major draw for the community.”
Fritz said improved parks could help area businesses, too, if more tournaments could take place in town.
Khoury said he would be interested in being part of the committee.
• Approved the Unionville-Sebewaing Area Schools Homecoming Parade for 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 21. North Center Street to M-25 will be blocked off for this event.
• Heard that Kemp Tiling Co, Inc. has been approached about possibly digging out the pits at the former Lapeer Metal Stamping property – a project that was supposed to have been taken care of by the former owners. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality wants the cement blocks to be taken out, as well, because of the contaminated paint on the blocks. Village officials said the blocks also pose a safety hazard.
• Received a reminder about the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) public hearing, set for 7 p.m. Sept. 18 at the village hall.

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