Heskett guilty on smaller charge of embezzlement

The Van Buren County Courthouse, located in Paw Paw, is pictured in 2012.

PAW PAW — A Van Buren County Circuit Court jury found Gerrie Heskett not guilty of embezzling between $50,000 and $100,000 after several days of deliberations.

Heskett was found guilty of the lesser charge of embezzlement by a public official of over $50. 

The jury of 10 women and two men deliberated for several hours Tuesday and all day Wednesday before coming to a conclusion at 9:30 p.m. Thursday. The trial lasted four days, with deliberations adding another three days.

Heskett was being tried on one count of embezzlement between $50,000 and $100,000 and one count of embezzlement by a public official over $50. The judge had given the jury an option of a lesser charge on the first count of embezzlement between $20,000 and $50,000.

Heskett served as Hartford Township cemetery sexton from 1997 to 2016. In her role as sexton, Heskett was accused of mismanaging funds in relation to the cemetery’s ledger.

The trial led to a prolonged discussion among jurors after a certified public accountant testified that he conducted a review of cemetery documents and found about $64,000 missing from the township.

However, it was discovered through his testimony that some mistakes were made in the review after some of the numbers were rounded during the forensic audit.

Heskett’s attorney argued this would leave a discrepancy of about $19,500 – bringing the total of alleged missing money to about $44,500 – below the amount Heskett was being charged with embezzling.

Her sentencing hearing for the one count of embezzling over $50 is set for 9 a.m. Sept. 10.