SOUTH HAVEN — There are a lot of documents to pore over and testimony to consider before the case of a former Hartford Township employee accused of embezzlement can be dismissed or moved along.
That was the conclusion of Judge Arthur Clarke after a preliminary hearing in South Haven District Court on Thursday in the case of Gerrie Heskett, the former township cemetery sexton, accused of embezzling $65,000 from the township.
Clarke said he would take into consideration testimony he heard Thursday, the documents submitted as evidence and the arguments the defense and prosecution made during a hearing in January.
He said he would then issue a written decision on whether Heskett will be bound over for trial or the case will be dismissed. He did not give a time frame for a decision.
Heskett’s attorney, Joseph Fletcher, made a motion to dismiss the case at the hearing in January on the grounds the statute of limitations is up and the prosecution doesn’t have enough evidence. Clarke said in January he would decide on the motion after hearing testimony during the preliminary hearing.
Fletcher argued that the law states the statute of limitations in such an embezzlement charge takes effect six years after the alleged crime, not six years after it is discovered. Part of the case involves grave plots Heskett bought in 1998 and 1999. The alleged crime wasn’t discovered until 2016.
Heskett had been employed by the township since 1997 and was terminated in December 2016.
Fletcher further argued in January that the plots in question were reported in a burial book as required. The prosecution alleges the payment for the plots also needed to be recorded.
“(The statute) makes it very clear that records relating to burial plots and sections, which is what we’re talking about here, is the permanent record,” Fletcher said.
Township Clerk Julie Sweet was called to testify for the prosecution Thursday. She testified during questioning by Fletcher that the burial books are not the permanent records.
Jay Blair, a Van Buren County assistant prosecutor, said the plots accounted for only about $39,000 of the alleged $65,000 embezzlement, so complete dismissal of the case wouldn’t be appropriate. The rest of the money involved other grave plots and grave openings, he said.
Blair said it’s possible Heskett could have taken the deeds and wrote whatever date she wanted on them because, in 2000, she was given control of all the books and papers relating to the cemetery, and access to the deeds.
He said this only happened because there was a poor township oversight.
In addition to the felony embezzlement count, Blair asked the judge to consider a felony count of embezzlement by a public official over $50.
Fletcher argued that Heskett is not a public official because, as Sweet testified to, Heskett was hired by the Township Board and was just an employee of the township. Blair argued that Heskett was serving as an agent of a public official and should be held to the same liability.
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