Kotschevar pleads no contest in church embezzlement case

Has to pay $71k in restitution, sentencing set for Dec. 10

CENTREVILLE — Centreville Village Treasurer Carol Kotschevar pleaded no contest Wednesday in St. Joseph County Circuit Court to a single charge of embezzlement following a plea agreement.

The agreement, as described by Prosecutor David Marvin at Wednesday’s hearing, resolves both open cases against Kotschevar, who is accused of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Centreville and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Colon over the course of a four-year period while she was the Centreville church’s treasurer. The no contest plea, Marvin said, was due to “reason of civil liability.”

Kotschevar was originally charged with two counts of embezzlement over $20,000 and less than $50,000, but the plea deal reduced the charge to one count of embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000 from the Centreville church.

As part of the plea agreement, Kotschevar will have to pay restitution of $37,805.28 to the Centreville church and an additional $2,500 to Brotherhood Mutual in the Centreville case, as well as paying restitution of $15,754.55 to the Colon church and an additional $15,000 to Auto Owners Insurance in the Colon case, for a total of just over $71,000 between the two cases. She is not expected to face any jail time.

Circuit Court Judge Paul Stutesman told Kotschevar before entering her plea that by pleading no contest, Stutesman said he had to be satisfied a crime was committed by Kotschevar from another source other than her. If he was given that information, and “establishes you’re guilty of the offense,” the conviction “enters just the same as if you pled guilty.”

To that, following Kotschevar’s plea, Stutesman said he was given a formal affidavit laying out the investigation and what occurred, done by Det. Sgt. Chad Spence of the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department. Both Marvin and Kurt Richardson, Kotschevar’s attorney, agreed it could be used for a “factual basis” for the charge. Stutesman agreed, saying there was a factual basis to determine Kotschevar was guilty of the offense and accepted the plea.

As previously reported, according to the affidavit, in the course of four years between December 2015 and December 2019, approximately $39,605.28 in cash was allegedly misappropriated by Kotschevar from St. Paul’s in Centreville, including $31,500 in e-payments made from the Colon church’s account. The alleged charges and payments included a $1,759.84 charge for the Hilton Singer Island in Singer Island, Fla. on March 24, 2018, a $2,216.66 charge to wedding planning company Fleurology Designs of Grand Rapids on May 14, 2019, and an $11,388 charge to City Flats Hotel in Grand Rapids on June 14, 2019. The latter two charges, Spence detailed in the report, were related to a wedding for Kotschevar’s daughter.

According to the affidavit, Kotschevar’s position as the Centreville church’s treasurer was ended in 2019/2020.

Sentencing in the case is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. in Circuit Court.

Following the hearing, Marvin said the plea deal was reached to “save the taxpayers a lot of money and a very complicated, many, many thousand-dollar trial.” He added that Wednesday’s result will hopefully help both churches move on and heal from the scandal.

“It caused very serious problems within the church, and it divided a church. You had those who were loyal and those who felt she was responsible. Friends, people who went every Sunday and hung out during the week were at odds, and this is the final word,” Marvin said. “I think it’ll hopefully have a healing impact on the community.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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