Mount ClemensJune 14, 2012
Westerfield sentenced in cooperative embezzlement case
By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer
MOUNT CLEMENS — The ex-property manager and board president of a Clinton Township townhouse cooperative was sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay back the more than $200,000 she embezzled.
After handing down her sentence June 12 in Macomb County Circuit Court, Judge Richard Caretti called Karen Marie Westerfield a “financial predator.” Inside the courtroom, about 30 members of the Clinton Cooperative were seated on benches, listening.
“You preyed on your friends; you preyed on your neighbors and took advantage of their trust,” the judge told Westerfield.
Westerfield, 61, pleaded guilty in April to a charge of embezzling between $50,000 and $100,000 while serving as the property manager and president of the Clinton Cooperative board of directors.
After the charge was filed, a forensic audit of the cooperative’s finances by an independent firm reported that the actual sum embezzled totaled more than $200,000. During the June 12 sentencing, Westerfield was ordered to pay $222,565 in restitution — an amount that also includes attorney fees and the cost of the forensic audit.
Current property manager Juli Cyman said Westerfield already has paid back about $37,000 to the 209-unit cooperative. She also will serve a five-year probation term, which will run concurrently with a two-year probation sentence for a separate charge of third-degree child abuse, to which she pleaded no contest.
Given the amount owed, several tenants have said they are skeptical Westerfield will ever be able to return the full amount in restitution.
The jail term came in spite of statements by Westerfield’s attorney, Scott C. Kozak, that all parties would benefit by her not being in jail, allowing her to continue paying back restitution.
Kozak said that Westerfield became “drunk with power,” but the charges had “brought her back down to earth.” She was now regretful and accepting responsibility, he said.
Westerfield also told the judge she was sorry for her actions, though she never directly addressed the cooperative members in the courtroom.
“It’s going to take her a long time” to pay the money back, Kozak said. “She’s going to make the effort to pay that back.”
Westerfield was already the board president when she took over the added duties of property manager in March 2008, Cyman said. In August 2010, Westerfield reportedly dismissed the cooperative’s accounting firm, and along with Erin Michelle Scanlon — the mother of her son’s child — began managing the cooperative’s finances.
Westerfield’s duties, both as property manager and as the president of the board of directors, were intended to be unpaid positions, though beginning in July 2009 the cooperative authorized her to live there rent-free in exchange for her duties. She had lived there for more than 30 years before, that Cyman said.
During the sentencing hearing, Cyman read a statement aloud on behalf of the cooperative, during which she said Westerfield ignored her responsibility to the cooperative community while frivolously wasting thousands of the cooperative’s dollars. Residents have an equity investment in the cooperative while living there.
“She thought only of herself — her own wants and needs,” Cyman said. “This has devastated our (cooperative) community in so many ways.”
Cyman added that the mistrust and suspicion Westerfield left behind has been hurtful to the cooperative community as a whole.
“It eats away our community like a disease,” she said. “Members no longer trust or feel safe with the board of directors, with the management, with their neighbors or with anyone else in the community. Every action is questioned, treated with cynicism and doubt.”
Scanlon also has been charged in 41B District Court for allegedly embezzling about $80,000 from the cooperative. As of press time, she was slated for a preliminary examination on June 20.
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