MIDLAND — Former Reese Village President Gerald Ellison was sentenced Tuesday to 11 months in Midland County jail for stealing about $48,000 from his former employer.
Ellison, 54, received the sentence from Midland Circuit Court Judge Stephen Carras for attempted larceny in a building.
He had been charged with five counts of embezzlement (between $1,000 and $20,000) and received a delayed sentence of one year on those charges as part of a plea deal that also included making full restitution to his former employer, Ware-Smith-Woolever Funeral Home. The charges could be dismissed after a year.
Geoffrey Rettig, assistant prosecutor, Midland County, told The Advertiser the plea deal also was contingent on the felony of attempted larceny being added.
“He paid his restitution up front and we thought that was pretty significant, but you still have to be left with a felony,” Rettig said. “We thought that was appropriate, the victims felt that was appropriate, and obviously the judge did, too.”
Rettig said the plan was to add the charge of larceny in a building at the end of the delayed sentence, “but the judge said ‘if you want me to consider jail as possible during his delay, you have to enter that conviction now.’”
Attempted larceny is a felony that carries a sentence of up to two years.
Rettig said he wanted a felony on Ellison’s record “that can be used if he gets convicted in the future, as a habitual offender.”
“It was important to us for that felony to be there should there be future prosecutions,” Rettig said.
Concurrently, Mark Reene, prosecutor, Tuscola County, said a Michigan State Police investigation into village of Reese financial affairs continues.
It involves Ellison because at the time he was village president and assistant fire chief and treasurer of the fire department.
In May, the council voted to summon state police to investigate money allegedly missing from the volunteer fire and rescue budget since 2012.
“We’re still working our way through the information,” Reene said. “We’ve been discussing a couple of final issues over the last two weeks and will be very close to making a final decision with the information we have shortly.”
Reene said it was too early to disclose details, but did confirm “the fire department is the primary focus.”
Ellison was asked to turn over the village’s keys, checkbooks and financial documents on March 28.
Village Manager David Tatrow confirmed that Ellison stepped down after the allegations surfaced about Ellison’s questionable activity at Ware-Smith-Woolever funeral home, which operates in Reese and Midland.
According to an affidavit for arrest warrant for Ellison, he stole money from Ware-Smith-Woolever between October 2014 and February 2016.
The warrant details how one of the funeral home officials had purchased a modular home and placed it on land owned by the funeral home at 1955 Gates Street in Reese.
Per agreement, Ellison was to pay the monthly mortgage of $706.14 until the house was paid in full and that he would own the home, but not the land.
“(Ellison) would take in checks from people making payments for a funeral service but on the deposit slip would change the name to make it appear as if (Ellison) had made a rent payment when in fact he had not,” the affidavit says.
The amounts of the deposits cited in the affidavit range from about $3,700 to more than $13,000.
“We saw this as a very serious case given the nature of the victims,” Rettig said. “The Ware funeral home has a wonderful reputation and people need to know that when they are dealing with final arrangements for their loved ones that they can deal with people who can be trusted.
“It was a great blow to the Ware funeral home to have their reputation besmirched,” Rettig said. “Fortunately in this situation all the customers received all their full service. It was really a theft from the funeral home.”
Ellison had served on the council for several years, and he also stepped down from his positions as assistant fire chief and treasurer at Reese Fire Rescue.
Originally, Ellison was arraigned April 6 in Midland County District Court.
Following Ellison’s resignation, Paul Keast, former council president pro tem, began serving as council president. Council members appointed Doug Squanda to the open seat on the council.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org