Former MOTA director charged with embezzlement

BIG RAPIDS — A yearly audit of Mecosta Osceola Transit Authority’s finances uncovered accounting discrepancies showing that the agency’s former executive director may have embezzled more than $14,000.

Karen Brewster, who served as the executive director for MOTA between 2005 and 2010, has been charged with embezzlement of more than $1,000 but less than $20,000 from MOTA after turning herself in to police on March 25.

The revelation stunned MOTA’s board of directors, said Mike Tillman, the chairman of the board who was first informed of the embezzlement scheme by the agency’s auditors in October. Until he was notified by the auditors, Tillman said there had been no signs that Brewster was taking money from MOTA.

“We were in a state of shock,” Tillman said. “Karen had been with MOTA for about 27 years and she had been the executive director since (2005). It was a shock to all of us.”

Tillman, who also is a Mecosta County Sheriff’s deputy, brought the audit information to the board in October during a special meeting, where they decided to terminate Brewster from her position. Shortly after that meeting, Tillman contacted the Michigan State Police at the Reed City post.

Investigation into the audit discrepancies showed that Brewster had been making payroll advances to herself and later attempting to pay the money back by not receiving a regularly scheduled paycheck, said Michigan State Police Trooper Matthew Nobliski, who investigated the case for five months.

The investigation also showed that Brewster had paid for numerous personal items, including a car repair, using MOTA credit cards, he said.

The charges issued by the Mecosta County Prosecutor’s Office address the payroll issues and not the credit card charges, Nobliski said.

Brewster turned herself in to police on March 25 after learning that the Mecosta County Prosecutor’s Office had issued a warrant for her arrest.

“She has been cooperative with authorities,” said Mecosta County Assistant Prosecutor Brian Thiede.

She was lodged at Mecosta County Jail, but has since been released on a personal recognisance bond and retained a lawyer. No court appearances for Brewster have been scheduled yet.

James P. Piper, Brewster’s Grand Haven-based attorney, declined to comment on the case to the Pioneer on Monday.

There is no evidence to indicate that Brewster embezzled from MOTA at any time other than during the fiscal year of September 2009 to October 2010, Noblinski said.

The thorough investigation of MOTA’s finances that turned up Brewster’s embezzlement hasn’t unveiled any additional suspicious activity, Tillman said.

“We’ve looked at a number of different things and everything seems to be fine,” he said. “We haven’t found any other discrepancies or areas of interest. At this point in time, we’re operating on a normal basis.”