VALPARAISO | A founder and former treasurer of two prominent Portage civic organizations was sentenced Monday to three years behind bars after pleading guilty to stealing just more than $76,000 from the groups.
Kenneth Morton, 52, who was given until 10 a.m. Wednesday to turn himself at the Porter County Sheriff's Department
"I do deeply regret what I did," he told the court.
While the Union Township resident said he intends to pay back the money to the Portage Parks Foundation and Rebuilding Together Portage, Porter Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa said he does not see how that is possible.
Alexa rejected a proposal by defense attorney Bryan Truitt to reduce Morton's four felony theft convictions to misdemeanors and place him on home detention so he stood a better chance of getting a job and paying back the money he stole.
Alexa reflected on an earlier case where the defendant served three months behind bars for drinking a bottle of soda in a store without first paying.
"Certainly, he could have made restitution for that," he said. "He wasn't offered the chance."
Tom Crnarich, president of Rebuilding Together Portage, said while not entirely satisfied with the sentencing, he realized the court did what it could.
Crnarich said he believes Morton stole twice as much from the organization as charged, including the $600 in gift money Crnarich had donated from his 50th wedding anniversary.
He said the group is still climbing out of the financial hole left behind by Morton and yet faces a lack of trust from the public when it comes to fundraising.
Shannon Burhans, past president of the parks foundation, said she too believes Morton stole more than he was charged with from the group.
She was pleased he was convicted of the felonies, because it means he will no longer be placed in a position of trust.
Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Buitendorp said Morton had written 115 checks to himself from the parks foundation and another 95 checks from Rebuilding Together Portage.
"It wasn't just one bad mistake here," she said.
Rebuilding Together Portage, formerly known as Christmas in April, raises funds to assist people in completing necessary repairs to their homes during its annual build day. The parks foundation is a non-profit, which raises funds to assist the Portage Park Department in a myriad of ways including purchasing property.