Reading the following article from the Journal Times I can only ask: where was the Board and CEO? Where do you think they were?
MILWAUKEE — Shepherds Ministries’ former vice president of finance pleaded guilty Tuesday to mail fraud relating to him reportedly stealing ne… Read more
MILWAUKEE — Shepherds Ministries’ former vice president of finance has been sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for fraud he committed while employed at the Union Grove nonprofit.
Michael W. Lowstetter pleaded guilty in November to mail fraud relating to him reportedly stealing nearly half a million dollars from Shepherds, a Christian nonprofit that houses and educates people with mental disabilities. Lowstetter’s sentencing came Tuesday, and he used the opportunity to say the day the fraud got discovered was the best and worst day of his life.
That day was when he became ashamed to tell people his last name and had “to look my kids in the eye and tell them Daddy had done something very wrong,” he said.
But it was also the day he stopped blaming others, took responsibility and started “living honestly,” he said.
“What I have done has destroyed so many things for so many people and I wrestle with the guilt of that on a daily basis,” said Lowstetter, in his 30s, formerly of Union Grove and most recently living with his parents in Ohio. “I’m truly sorry for what I’ve done.”
Federal prosecutors contend Lowstetter sent and received fraudulent mail as part of a larger scheme in which he stole $453,737.12 from Shepherds from 2009 to 2012, while he was the nonprofit’s vice president of finance. Lowstetter allegedly established a secret bank account in Shepherds’ name and diverted charitable bequests, insurance reimbursement checks and the cash value of a life insurance policy into the account, according to court documents.
“He would then transfer the funds to another bank account that he controlled and use the money for family vacations, vehicles, home renovations, property taxes, mortgage payments, restaurant dining and miscellaneous purchases,” the documents said.
Lowstetter was motivated by financial troubles that stemmed from the recent real estate market collapse. He feared what would happen — and what people would think — if he could not pay his mortgage and could not adequately support his wife and six children, said his lawyer, William Reddin.
That situation — plus Lowstetter’s cooperation during the eventual federal investigation — does not lessen the severity of the crime, though, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Koenig.
The crime involved a large sum of money, stolen from intellectually disabled people and took advantage of an employer’s trust, Koenig said.
“It was deliberate. It was opportunistic. ... (Lowstetter) used his talents to seek out the weak spots in Shepherds Ministries’ (financial) controls,” he said.
Lowstetter pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud Nov. 12. He was sentenced Tuesday to 2 1/2 years in prison and three years on extended supervision afterward. He was also ordered to pay $453,737.12 in restitution, $153,737.12 to Shepherds and $300,000 to an insurer that has already reimbursed the nonprofit that amount for its losses. Lowstetter must also pay $200 in court fees.
Lowstetter was taken into federal custody following Tuesday’s sentencing hearing. His parents watched, teary-eyed. Shepherds’ President Bill Amstutz hugged them afterward.
“We care for the family. We hold no anger or malice,” Amstutz said, adding he’s also forgiven Lowstetter. “When a trusted young man like Mike loses his way, it is hard for all of us.”
Amstutz has said the missing funds did not negatively impact Shepherds’ operations, including the hiring of staff or providing of services, because the dollars were taken over a three-year period.
Shepherds, 1805 15th Ave., has since had a forensic audit completed to show how the funds were diverted and what could be done to keep it from happening again, according to Amstutz.