CROWN POINT — A Merrillville man who stole thousands of dollars from an agency that helps children and adults with disabilities was granted a reprieve Tuesday after failing to reimburse the nonprofit.
Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez scheduled a new hearing in January to decide whether John F. Kmetz should serve four years in prison for failing to pay the $12,693 he stole from Hunky Hollow Athletic Club and Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Indiana. The nonprofits have supported the Hobart-based Center for Possibilities since the 1960s. Kmetz was Hunky Hollow's and Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Indiana's treasurer when the theft occurred. The center provides day care, therapy and educational programs for children and adults with disabilities, including cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.
Kmetz, 81, told Vasquez at his sentencing hearing in September 2017 he could pay the $12,693 owed to Hunky Hollow within a year of his sentencing date. Based on that assurance, the judge agreed to sentence Kmetz to four years of probation, though he warned Kmetz he could face prison if he did not make significant payments within a year.
In July, the state filed a motion to revoke Kmetz's probation after it was revealed he had paid less than a $1,000 in the past year to Hunky Hollow. A probation officer told Vasquez at a Sept. 12 court hearing Kmetz typically had paid between $20 and $25 a month.
Vasquez ordered Kmetz to provide the court financial records after the Sept. 12 hearing showing why he could not make more substantial payments.
The judge said Tuesday after reviewing the records he believed Kmetz was not trying hard enough to make restitution.
The judge noted Kmetz had a $170 cable bill, a $10 subscription to Netflix and a YMCA membership. Just by cutting those costs alone, the judge said Kmetz could pay an additional $200 a month.
Defense attorney Scott King agreed Kmetz could pay, at minimum, that amount. He requested a 60-day continuance so his client could prove he was making more substantial payments.
Vasquez granted the request and scheduled a new hearing for Jan. 23, but warned Kmetz he would lose his liberty if he failed to make adequate payments during that time.
Cary Brooks, vice president of Hunky Hollow, said Tuesday he was upset about the continuance.
He said Kmetz left the court hearing driving a brand-new SUV, the second vehicle he had seen Kmetz driving since his conviction.
“It's not surprising to me he is not paying,” Brooks said. “This is a guy who is a bully.”
Brooks emphasized that this was not a victimless crime — Kmetz stole from disabled children and adults.
“He damn near ruined the organization,” Brooks said. “We have about 25 kids at the Center for Possibilities, and it came dangerously close to closing the doors. And what happens to those kids? They are parked in front of a television because they have nowhere to go.”
Speros Batistatos, a board member for the club, claimed Vasquez was not serious about punishing thieves.
“If you want to stop crime, you punish people who do it, and you punish them loudly, and publicly and clearly,” Batistatos said. “No one is thinking about these children and their families, who had their service fees doubled because of John's thievery.”
Donations to support a new playground for the Center of Possibilities can be made by visiting the organization's GoFundMe page.