CROWN POINT — More than a dozen adults with disabilities served by the Hobart-based Center for Possibilities packed Thursday’s emotionally charged sentencing hearing for 80-year-old John Kmetz, who pleaded guilty in March to stealing funds from two nonprofit organizations.
Kmetz’s sentencing hearing continues at 11 a.m. Friday in Lake County Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez’s courtroom with members of Hunky Hollow Athletic Club and Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Indiana vowing to be in attendance.
Parties will continue arguing the amount of restitution Kmetz will owe to the nonprofits.
The Merrillville resident served as treasurer for Hunky Hollow and Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Indiana, a nonprofit that has operated the Center for Possibilities since the 1960s. The center provides day care, therapy and educational programs for children and adults with disabilities including cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.
Some drama occurred even before the hearing began.
Vasquez informed Kmetz’s defense attorney Scott King and deputy prosecuting attorney David Rooda that a Hunky Hollow member had contacted him by email prior to the hearing. That could have caused King to ask for the case to be handled by a different judge, Rooda said.
“We didn’t need this right now,” Cary Brooks, vice president of Hunky Hollow and board president of the center, said during a pause in the proceedings.
Looking across the gallery to those from the Center for Possibilities, Brooks said, “They’re the victims in all this.”
When court reconvened, King said after discussing the situation with Kmetz, the defense saw “no impact” from Vasquez’s disclosure.
Rooda called Brooks as the prosecution’s first witness. During his lengthy testimony, Brooks said Kmetz had sole access to and control over three Chase bank accounts and that all bank statements were sent to his home address.
Brooks said his review of the bank records indicated Kmetz withdrew $100,256.69 from ATMs over the past seven years. However, Kmetz could only be charged for the thefts that occurred within the five-year statute of limitation.
“There were 20 debit card purchases not consistent with the operation of the organizations,” Brooks said. Those included tickets for an ABBA concert, car rentals and gas station purchases in Florida and Michigan.
“What alerted us to all the nefarious activities was a $250 to $350 charge at Blue Gate Inn & Suites in Shipshewana (Indiana),” Brooks testified. “There is no reason to have hotel charges.”
Before the thefts were discovered, Brooks said there were financial impacts. One was an increase in the tuition paid by students to attend the Center for Possibilities in May 2014, he said. That rate was doubled from $5 a day to $10 at Kmetz’s suggestion during a board meeting.
“John told us there was a cash flow problem. Our students have special needs and most are low-income,” Brooks said. “At the same meeting, John requested a $500 a month consultant fee because he was at the center three days a week.”