A Williamston woman who once ran the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan has been ordered to stand trial on charges that she stole public money earmarked for a proposed memorial statue honoring Cesar Chavez.
Maria Louisa "Marylou" Mason, who retired from state government work in 2015, waived her right to a district court review of the evidence during a hearing Thursday in 54A District Court.
She is charged with embezzlement between $50,000 and $100,000 and embezzlement by a public official over $50.
A Michigan State Police investigation showed that Mason embezzled more than $73,500 between February 2013 and June 2015, the state Attorney General's Office has said.
The money had been given to the state to build a Cesar Chavez Memorial statue in Lansing, the AG's office said. The statue has not been built.
Mason arranged to have the money transferred to a non-profit and a local community center, then moved it into her personal accounts, investigators said. The money was used to pay numerous personal credit card bills, along with Mason's University Club fees and her state and city taxes, they said.
A state official said the funds allegedly embezzled by Mason included both state appropriations and private donations.
Robert Easterly, an attorney for Mason, declined to comment on the allegations or the investigation on Thursday.
Mason ran the Hispanic/Latino Commission – formerly the Office on Spanish Speaking Affairs – for nearly 30 years.
The commission markets career development services to the state's Hispanic population. It also provides outreach services, including mental health counseling, to thousands in the Latino community, according to a recent annual report.
Mason was the first woman to lead the commission and the first Hispanic woman to serve on Lansing Community College's Board of Trustees.
She also was credited with starting the Michigan Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, the Hispanic Student Summit and Legislative Advocacy Day at the state Capitol.
Embezzlement of between $50,000 and $100,000 carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison upon conviction. Embezzlement by a public official over $50 is a maximum 10-year felony.
A hearing to determine whether Mason should stand trial on those charges was scheduled for Thursday, but Mason waived her right to the hearing.
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