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Former nature center director sentenced

David Keift. Facebook photo.

By Judy Reed

David Kieft, the former director of Howard Christensen Nature Center, was sentenced this week in connection with embezzling money from the center.

Kieft was charged in February with one count of embezzlement over $1,000 but less thank $20,000 of a non-profit or charity. He later pled no contest to attempted embezzlement as part of a plea agreement.

He was sentenced on Tuesday, June 12, by Judge Paul Sullivan, in Kent County Circuit Court. According to the court, he received three years probation; 90 days in jail at the end of his probation; 200 hours of work crew in lieu of 100 days in jail (that is separate from the 90 days he will serve at the end of probation); and restitution. Restitution is currently set at $4,000 but a hearing date is not yet set to determine the full amount, which will likely be more. 

Kieft, of Kent City, was employed at the HCNC, located in Tyrone Township, for about four years. He resigned on August 28, 2017, reportedly because he had opened a new sandwich shop and wanted to spend more time there and with his family. Upon his resignation, one of the board members noticed that some of the bills had not been paid, and began digging into all the financial activities of Kieft. On September 3, the board member called the Kent County Sheriff Department to report he had embezzled funds.

Kieft reportedly wrote himself numerous checks, which he made out to unregistered businesses, and used the Nature Center Paypal account to purchase a multitude of items for himself and his businesses. The investigation found a minimum of $4,000 to $5,000 in misappropriated funds, mainly through the Paypal account.

There are IRS and Michigan State Treasury investigations separate from the Kent County Sheriff investigation, and more charges could eventually be leveled on Kieft.

Treasurer Kim Gillow read a victim impact statement to the court that listed a litany of offenses committed by Kieft that have put the nature center at risk of closing. Most of the offenses involving missing money (including several grants); lack of payment on necessary bills and taxes; late fees; and payments to himself. She noted that they have incurred expenses of over $5,000 to make up payments and late fees, change locks, etc. and that’s over and above the money that was missing. She also said he converted a handicap accessible bathroom to a personal shower without notifying KISD, who owns the Nature Center. She said it was not installed properly, and caused several plumbing issues. It is estimated it will cost about $6,000 to fix.

Gillow is happy that this part of the case is finally over. And she understands why the judge sentenced him to probation first. “The judge said if he was in jail it wasn’t going to help us get our money,” she explained.

The Nature Center is located at 16190 Red Pine Dr. Kent City, MI 49330. 

The Center is also looking for donors to help sustain the center. You can visit them online at www.howardchristensen.org to donate.

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