The future of the popular Howard Christensen Nature Center near Kent City is in doubt after prosecutors say the former director embezzled money from the non-profit.
Former center director David Kieft is accused of felony embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000.
Thousands of school children and families visit the center every year to enjoy and learn about nature.
But because of the financial crisis the schedule is now reduced to only Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Detectives say Kieft spent the stolen money on jewelry, weight loss programs and his now closed Sparta restaurant Ridgetown Grub.
“We trusted him and our trust was broken,” says interpretive guide and former board member Kare Greenup.
“We did a background check on him and he checked out great. We thought he would be a really good director until we started checking a little closer on the books.”
More is needed but many in the community are coming together to support and raise money for the Howard Christensen Nature Center. A business has donated T-shirts for them to sell. Next Monday evening, Cedar Springs Brewing Company is donating a portion of their sales to the center.
“We are down to a little of nothing and just staying open by the good will of the people in this community,” says Greenup. “We really need to keep this wonderful center open.” The center has also started a gofundme page to help raise funs.
If convicted, David Kieft could go to prison and be ordered to pay back three times the amount embezzled.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WZZM 13 app now.