July 10, 2013LAPEER — Disgraced former Almont Village/Clerk Sally McCrea appeared stoic Monday afternoon, July 8, as she was remanded over to Lapeer County Sheriff's deputies for a year's incarceration in the Lapeer County Jail.
McCrea, 61, was fired by Almont Village officials on February 7, 2012, after an internal investigation and independent audit revealed she had received compensation and benefits not authorized by her contract.
In February of 2013, McCrea pleaded guilty to embezzling an estimated $165,278 from the Village of Almont's coffers during her tenure as clerk/treasurer.
At the same time, she pleaded guilty to additional charges of "embezzlement by a public official" and "willful neglect of duty."
On Monday, Lapeer Circuit Court Judge Nick Holowka sentenced McCrea to two concurrent sentences of 365 days in the county jail, along with 360 hours of community service, probation and accumulated court costs.
She was also ordered to pay $165,278 in restitution to the Village of Almont, via monthly payments to the Lapeer County Clerk's office.
Attorney Howard Siegrist consults with Sally McCrea during Monday's sentencing hearing. photo by Tom Wearing.
While honoring mandatory sentencing guidelines pertaining to non-violent crimes, Judge Holowka admonished McCrea for the damage she did to the Village of Almont and its residents.
"The village is a small community," said Holowka. "What you did hurt each one of those citizens and your fellow employees.
"The fact you were able to do this for an extended period of time shows callousness on your part," he continued. "These people placed their confidence and trust in you, and you clearly let them down."
Lapeer County attorney Steve Schneider, who serves as Almont's village council president, issued an impassioned plea to Judge Holowka, urging him to dispense with normal sentencing guidelines in lieu of a harsher sentence for McCrea.
"Miss McCrea should be held to a higher standard," said Schneider. "She was in charge of all of our finances. Her conduct led to increases in our millage, water and sewer rates. These actions cry out for justice."
Schneider said an internal investigation and another by Michigan State Police, revealed that McCrea had issued duplicate payroll checks totaling $55,400; issued a long-term disability insurance policy for herself for $14,000; and absconded with another $89,000 through other means.
"This was direct theft," said Schneider. "We believe we've been betrayed by many years of deceit and the punishment should fit the crime.
"The consequences of her actions has affected our community and our citizens during very difficult economic times," he continued. "This is a 10-year felony. We request she be sentenced to 3-10 years."
McCrea's attorney, Howard Siegrist of Farmington Hills, urged Judge Holowka to be lenient in his sentencing.
"From the beginning, Miss McCrea has done everything she could to make amends," said Siegrist. "She has accepted responsibility and is remorseful.
"She continues to be cooperative," Siegrist said. "She has done the right thing," noting that McCrea agreed to waive a potentially long, protracted preliminary exam, thus saving the court time and money.
During the initial investigation, McCrea claimed she needed the money to sustain her gambling addiction.
Siegrist suggested her real intent for taking the money was to assist family members.
"I think it makes a difference that this act was not for personal greed," said Siegrist. "She has to take care of her 89-year-old mother; and unfortunately, she's an enabler who wants to help her son, who has a gambling problem and was getting into trouble with the law. That's what she was using the money for.
"It's no excuse and no defense," he continued, "but maybe she should be looked at like a Robin Hood. She knows she made a big mistake, but she has owned up to her responsibility."
Siegrist noted that the village received reimbursement of $125,000 of the loss from its insurance company.
After McCrea was led from the courtroom by Lapeer County deputies, Schneider expressed resignation to what he considered a light sentence.
"I think it's the best we could have hoped for, given the sentencing guidelines," said Schneider. "And because there was no deviation from the sentencing guidelines, it's unlikely that she would be successful with an appeal of the judge's sentence."
Almont Village Manager Oliver Turner, who helped uncover McCrea's transgressions, was pleased that the matter has been legally resolved.
"The sentencing brings to a close what has been a painful and difficult period for our employees and for our community," said Turner in a public statement. "The robust internal controls that have been implemented by the office staff since Ms. McCrea's dismissal will safeguard against this type of crime in the future.
"And as an organization," Turner continued, "we can now begin the healing process and continue to expand upon our focus to grow the village responsibly while maintaining our current level of services."
Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.