COOPERSVILLE (WZZM) - The ex-office manager at a Coopersville machine shop has been ordered to stand trial for embezzling more than $100,000 from the family-run business.
Rhonda Jimenez of Muskegon siphoned an estimated $500,000 from Philip's Machining, Inc. over a six-year period, court documents show. She was bound over for trial following a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Hudsonville District Court. If convicted, Jimenez faces up to 20 years in prison.
"It's been very trying and emotionally draining to have someone that close betray you like that,'' company owner Jim Pleune said. "She was a very trusted person and was here for 14 years. We're all in shock.''
Philip's Machining, 80 Mason Drive in Coopersville, started in 1987 with a handful of workers, Pleune said. It makes parts for West Michigan manufacturers and has 17 full-time employees.
The investigation began in November when Pleune said he noticed irregularities with company payroll.
"We noticed some irregularities on her payroll checks and when she was questioned about it, she got nervous and confessed,'' Pleune said. "She kept changing her story and greatly understated the amount taken. That's when I I knew it was going to get worse.''
Pleune in January filed a civil suit against Jimenez to recover more than $521,000 he claims was embezzled between 2007 and 2013.The amount has since grown to $550,000, he said.
The lawsuit, filed in Ottawa County Circuit Court, alleges Jimenez used six different company credit cards to make $427,193 in unauthorized purchases for personal use.
When Jimenez bought the Cancun Connection Bar & Grill, 2411 E. Hall Rd. in Muskegon, the unauthorized purchases "accelerated quickly,'' the lawsuit claims.
"She bought the bar in 2008 and I think a lot of the money went into operating that business,'' Pleune said. "She also paid her credit card bills and living expenses, bought plane tickets for her family and a time-share condo n Hawaii.''
Betrayal, he said, stings more than the financial loss.
"We are a close-knit group so it hit everyone hard,'' Pleune said. "Thankfully, we had been positioning ourselves to weather any recession and economic downturn, so thankfully we are not on shaky ground – we'll still be a viable machine shop for manufacturers.''