GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — A former Grand Haven School official has been charged with embezzlement. It's alleged the former assistant superintendent stole nearly $1 million over several years.
"It's a crime of secrecy," said Attorney Randall Levine, of Levine & Levine out of Kalamazoo, "and it involves coming into possession of funds when you have a position of trust."
In this case, that accused person is 56-year-old Brian Wheeler, a 20-year veteran of the Grand Haven Area Public Schools. He was fired after a weekslong investigation by the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety.
After evading police overnight, Wheeler was arrested on Nov. 24.
"What we know is that over a period of time, this person was, through the use of a corporation that he created, diverting funds that did not belong to him, and taking them for his own use," said Levine, who specializes in white collar crime.
According to court documents obtained by 13 ON YOUR SIDE, Wheeler used a computer at work to create false invoices for a company called "Infinity Electric" for amounts around $7,000. Investigation shows the company did not exist.
Wheeler would turn in the invoices to a woman who worked in accounts payable, who issued him checks. Wheeler then put the money into his own account, which he would later transfer via a cash app, Det. Dana Beekman with the Grand Haven DPS said.
"Embezzlers, in general, can be very cunning about how they misappropriate funds," said Levine, "and oftentimes because there's a relationship of trust that's developed over years, no one really is motivated to dive into the inner machinations of what they're doing."
Police started looking into this when the district realized some of the money from a bond set aside for the technology department went missing. Court documents show the alleged embezzlement begin back in 2014 and is believed to have taken around $900,000.
"The amount of money alleged to have been taken here would put the crime in the most severe category of embezzlement," said Levine.
According to the Michigan legislature, if Wheeler is convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison and significant fines.
Two days prior to his arrest, Wheeler's wife said she was aware of the embezzlement. Could she also be charged?
"It's probably not enough," said Levine. "Knowledge in and of itself, without any action is probably not enough, and so even though she may have been a beneficiary, if she wasn't involved in doing something actively, she is unlikely to be charged."
Levine also added that the school district, at this point, bears no responsibility in terms of criminal liability. That being said, a civil lawsuit could potentially be filed against the school if a plaintiff could prove that there was negligence in letting this go on as long as it did.
Grand Haven Area Public Schools superintendent Andrew Ingall issued a statement about the situation Monday:
"Grand Haven Area Public Schools contracts with professional accounting firms to conduct annual audits. None of their findings revealed irregularities. In light of our recent discovery, we are in the process of hiring an independent forensic auditor to fully investigate the situation. Should shortcomings in our processes be discovered, we will immediately make adjustments based on their recommendations."
But for now, only Wheeler is the one being found responsible.
"He is innocent until proven guilty," said Levine, "but we would hope in a civilized society, that somebody who was a school official, who was motivated to help children with think better about depriving those children from funds, which would which would further their education."
13 ON YOUR SIDE also previously obtained other documents that show he has a history of financial troubles. There are a total of 16 judgements and liens against Wheeler.
Wheeler is still in custody with a $150,000 bond.
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