REESE — Officials with the village of Reese said they were shocked to learn one of their colleagues was dismissed Monday for allegedly embezzling funds from a funeral home.
Village Manager David Tatrow announced to the council in a special meeting Wednesday that Gerald Ellison was asked to turn over the village’s keys, check books and financial documents, and to resign as village president.
Ellison, who has served on the council for nearly a decade, also served as assistant fire chief and treasurer at Reese Fire Rescue.
He was also asked resign from those positions.
Tatrow confirmed that Ellison was let go after allegations surfaced that he was misappropriating funds that belonged to Ware-Smith Woolever funeral home, operated in Reese and Midland, where Ellison served as a funeral director.
The Advertiser called twice, left one message for Ellison Friday but he did not respond by press time.
“I was in total shock,” Tatrow said. “When I heard about it, it totally drained the life out of my body … It was something that totally blindsided me.”Tatrow, who has worked with Ellison on the council for about five years, said he learned from the owners of the funeral home about a month ago that Ellison’s financial activity at the Midland funeral home was being investigated.
Tatrow could not confirm how much money, if any, was taken from the funeral home.
The Advertiser tried to reach Kirk R. Ware and Scott R. Ware, who own Ware-Smith-Woolever funeral home, more than once Friday, but they were both unavailable to say if they have or will pursue legal remedies related to Ellison.
Reese officials, however, already have acted.
“We’ve done everything we could do to be thorough, but not act too quick,” Tatrow said. “When it became apparent that the claims are true, we got to the point where it was time to confront Jerry about the allegations.”
First Lt. David Kaiser, with the Michigan State Police at the third district headquarters in Flint, confirmed that detectives are currently investigating an embezzlement case involving missing funds at a funeral home in Midland.
Kaiser would not release the identity of the employee accused of embezzling funds, but he said the employee who was authorized to handle funds in Midland was also authorized to keep track of the business’s funds in Reese.
Kaiser added that detectives took an initial complaint from the funeral home in Midland about a month ago, but they have not started an investigation at the funeral home in Reese yet.
He could not confirm if the owners of the funeral home have pressed charges, but records at the Midland County Courthouse show that there were no charges filed against Ellison by Friday.
Because Ellison also handled funds at the fire department, Tatrow said all funds that the fire department has received from the village will be audited.
As of Monday, all money belonging to the fire department will go through Tatrow’s office until an oversight procedure is set up.
“I’ve been in this business now for going on 44 years,” Tatrow said. “He was probably one of the best village presidents I’ve ever worked with … he ran a great council meeting, he was professional and I had a lot of respect for him … I feel totally devastated.”
Ross, who also serves as a first responder with the fire department, said no one has seen or heard from Ellison since Monday.
Ellison’s brother, Gene Ellison, serves as fire chief, and Ross said she’s concerned the fire department and Ellison’s family will receive backlash from his actions.
“This is really going to impact the fire department because his nephew is a captain and he’s looking to be the next assistant fire chief,” Ross said. “I’m really disappointed at the position that he’s left Gene in … I’ve always admired Jerry, I really admire Gene … I’m just bummed.”
Village council president pro-tem, Paul Keast, will now serve as president of the council and village trustee Tim Elbers will serve as president pro-tem.
Ross said the council has not filled its vacancy yet.
“I’m not mad,” Ross said. “He was in a position where he was afforded too much authority and no oversight … humans are humans, we take advantage … I’m just so disappointed.”
Beth Waldon is a staff writer for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org