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POSTED: 05:52 AM EDT Apr 20, 2015
A Berrien County circuit court judge sentenced a former Berrien County commissioner to 34 months in prison on embezzlement charges Monday.
Robert Wooley pled guilty to taking more than $317,000 from the North Berrien Senior Center, where he served as director. He also admitted to taking thousands more from the local fire department, for which he was treasurer.
The 34-month sentence is for his 2014 charge involving the Senior Center; he will pay $317,129.83 in restitution. Wooley was also sentenced to 120 days in the Berrien County jail for the 2015 attempted embezzlement charge involving the local fire department. That restitution will be decided at a later hearing. Both sentences are to be served concurrently, at the same time.
Wooley says he forged checks to line his own pockets. He apologized in court, pleading for a short sentence, saying he'll work to pay back the money he took.
"I don't have a lot of good working years in me, probably," Wooley told Judge Sterling Schrock.
Wooley's lawyer Andrew Burch also asked the judge for leniency, saying Wooley's crime a "significant human failing with good intent." Wooley had good intentions to win back the money for the center, Burch said.
Burch added Wooley is in a "tragic" situation, and that he is a victim himself in this case because he suffers from a gambling addiction.
But Donna Sieber, a member of the Senior Center board for 15 years, told the judge the real victims are the local senior citizens: "Sly, cunning, sneaky Mr. Wooley kept on playing his game," Sieber said in court.
Sieber said she even remembers discussing an embezzlement incident involving another person in another town. At the time, Wooley agreed that the person needed to be punished. The board later learned Wooley was embezzling money at the time of that discussion.
"I cried, I was hurt," Sieber said. "I couldn't believe it. And I didn't know how much it was."
Wooley also pleaded guilty to violating the terms of his bond Monday. He admitted to the judge he had left state boundaries to gamble at Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City on at least four separate occasions: Feb. 2, March 5, 12 and 19.
These visits all happened after Wooley pled guilty to embezzling and was out on bond, says Jennifer Smith, chief assistant prosecutor for Berrien County.
"It kind of showed, perhaps to some people, a lack of remorse for what he had done," Smith said, "and perhaps to some people the severity of his addiction."
Sieber falls more into the first category and is pleased Wooley will serve time in prison.
"I'm glad Judge Schrock gave him some time and behind bars, so he can think about all the nasty things he's done to everybody, and how many people he hurt," Sieber said.
Judge Schrock also recommended that Wooley get treatment for his gambling addiction while in prison.
Wooley has 42 days to file an appeal. His lawyer tells WSBT 22 they have not discussed appealing.