09-13-2018 Former Hartford Twp. Cemetery Sexton gets 30 days jail time for embezzlement;

PATRIOT DAY SERVICE… The Watervliet VFW hosted its annual Patriot Day Service in Veterans Park on Tuesday, September 11. Post Commander Corky Openneer conducted the observance. North Elementary School Principal Joe Allen was the guest speaker. Addressing his 5th grade class, he outlined a history of the terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and on an airplane that was crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. He told them that nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks, including emergency responders who died saving others and another 6,000 people were injured. The 5th graders were also on the program, leading the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Rev. David Haase, VFW Chaplain, offered a prayer of remembrance for the victims of the attack. WHS Senior Mikalah Clay sang our National Anthem. Watervliet City Police Chief Timothy Sutherland and Watervliet Fire Chief Dan Jones presented the memorial wreaths. The closing ceremony was conducted by the North Berrien Military Rites team. (TCR photo by Karl Bayer)


Former Hartford Twp. Cemetery Sexton gets 30 days jail time for embezzlement Jury finds Gerrie Heskett not guilty of other embezzlement charges after three days of deliberation

By Jon Bisnett Gerrie Lee Heskett 62, of Hartford will serve 30 days in the Van Buren County jail following her conviction on one count of Embezzlement by a Public Official Over $50. During sentencing on September 10, 2018 Judge Kathleen Brickley additionally ordered five years’ probation and Heskett must also pay $258 in court costs. Heskett was found guilty in Van Buren Circuit Court after a jury heard four days of arguments and spent three days of deliberation. The jury found Heskett to be not guilty of the additional counts of Embezzling Between $50,000 and $100,000 and chose to then disregard an option given by the judge of a lesser charge of Embezzlement Between $20,000 and $50,000. Although investigators claim Heskett may have stolen as much as $100,000 during the period from 1997 to 2016, the defense argued what it called discrepancies in the methodology of averaging used in the case. Judge Brickley ruled that the jury may use either calculation in their deliberation, which resulted in a not guilty verdict on the additional embezzlement charges. Heskett was employed as Hartford Township cemetery sexton from 1997 to 2016. She was in charge of cemetery maintenance and in 2000 the Township Board gave her authority over everything related to the cemetery, including receiving payments, the burial book and issuing lot deeds. Red flags first occurred in late summer of 2016 after a local resident reported giving Heskett a payment for the purchase of a burial plot without receiving any documentation. Hartford Township first contacted the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department in fall 2016 with suspicions that led to an investigation in January of 2017 of missing funds, mostly cash transactions that were the responsibility of Heskett. The period spanned January 2011 through December 2016.

Township officials discharged Heskett, the Township’s only full-time employee, in late 2016 after discrepancies arose. She had worked as the caretaker for both Hartford Township cemeteries from 1997 to December of 2016. Since discharging Heskett the Township liquidated all maintenance equipment related to her position and now subcontracts the work. Burial purchases and any related charges are now managed internally by the Township Clerk, serving as Cemetery Coordinator employing a new comprehensive software package. After a police investigation and forensic audit were completed, Heskett was ultimately accused of embezzling $65,000. Embezzlement by a Public Official Over $50 is a felony which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

2018 North Berrien photo contest winners announced

The annual North Berrien Photography Contest invites Michigan photographers to submit images taken in the Bainbridge, Coloma, Hagar, and Watervliet areas of Berrien County in Southwest Michigan. This year, multiple photographers entered a total of 18 stunning photographs of North Berrien. Two winners and two honorable mentions have been selected among these submissions. These photographs will be displayed in an exhibit at the North Berrien Historical Museum, September 17-October 26. The winning photographs of the 2018 Photo Contest are: “Chasing Seagulls” by Sandra Johnson of Coloma in the senior division and “Flaherty Park Stream” by Barry Nelson of Hartford in the adult division. These two photographs were determined to best represent and celebrate features of North Berrien’s distinctive character.

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