ST. JOSEPH — An Eau Claire woman faces an April trial in connection with the alleged embezzlement of more than $230,000 from the Village Seventh-day Adventist School in Berrien Springs.
Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic said Sarah Jane Kurtz, 50, of West Eureka Road in Eau Claire faces an April 30 trial on a felony charge of embezzlement more than $100,000. The alleged embezzlement took place over an eight-year period from 2011 to 2018 when Kurtz was the school’s secretary/treasurer.
Kurtz was initially arraigned in Niles in January, but the case was transferred to St. Joseph when Berrien County Trial Judge Charles LaSata recused himself, as he knows her family. Kurtz’s husband, Martin, is a lieutenant in the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.
Sepic said the case has now been assigned to Berrien County Trial Judge Sterling Schrock. Sarah Kurtz waived her right to a preliminary hearing Friday morning at a pre-exam conference.
Upcoming court dates include case conferences set for March 15 and April 22, before the April 30 trial date start.
The police report noted that the alleged embezzlement was investigated by the Michigan State Police Fifth District Headquarters. The Berrien Springs-Oronoko Township Police Department did not investigate the matter because Police Chief Paul Toliver worked with Martin Kurtz for more than 20 years when Toliver was at the sheriff’s department, the report said.
If convicted, Sarah Kurtz faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison. She is free on a $10,000, 10 percent bond.
According to the police report, the alleged embezzlement was discovered last summer when a teacher’s salary check bounced and an audit was conducted. The police report indicated that Sarah Kurtz allegedly sent an email to the school in July 2018 confessing to taking $127,000.
The audit showed that money was embezzled from the school in a number of ways including automatic bill payments, the use of the school’s debit card for personal purchases, fund transfers to a personal account, and by cash payments, Sepic said.
For example, more than $115,000 was allegedly embezzled from September 2015 through July 2018 through automatic payments to American Express from the school’s account with Honor Credit Union. However, the school had no account with American Express.
The alleged embezzlement came to light in November when a letter from the Village Seventh-day Adventist Church and School sent to church members and parents was given to the media.
The letter stated in part: “Many details of this crime will not be shared publicly by the church or school.” It also noted that the school is “re-establishing a strong foundation in spite of this challenge. Careful and thorough reporting is going on, and tightened systems of accountability are in place.”
Church and school officials reassured parents and church members that the school would be made whole. “Whether through restitution or insurance, the school will recover the lost funds,” the letter stated.