CROWN POINT — A criminal court judge is giving John F. Kmetz 60 more days of freedom to catch up on his restitution to disabled children and adults from whom he stole more than $12,000.

It will be the third reprieve he's received since pleading guilty in 2017 to stealing donations to Hunkee Hollow Athletic Club and Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Indiana's Center for Possibilities. The organizations raise donations to provide day care, therapy and educational programs for children and adults with disabilities.

That infuriated two members of Hunkee Hollow, who said Kmetz must be made an example of to deter others from victimizing churches and other nonprofits trying to help society's most vulnerable members.

Kmetz served as treasurer for both organizations for about 20 years until he was removed in fall 2015 after a review of bank records indicated Kmetz withdrew $110,000 over seven years. He could only be charged for the thefts that occurred within the five-year statute of limitations.

Judge Salvador Vasquez found Kmetz in violation of his probation Wednesday afternoon and scheduled a March 14 sentencing date at which he will take one of two courses — send the 81-year-old to prison or let him remain free if he keeps new promises to repay his victims with a $5,000 lump payment by March and 31 additional payments of at least $230 per month for the remainder of his probation period.

Deputy Prosecutor David Rooda demanded the judge imprison Kmetz immediately, saying the judge spared Kmetz from imprisonment last year only because of Kmetz's promises of restitution then.

"I know you can't incarcerate someone who cannot pay, but his was a willful failure to pay. We know he isn't paying as much as he could," Rooda said.

The judge ordered him to repay a significant portion of the stolen money, but he has only paid $1,195 in the last 14 months to date — rarely making monthly payments exceeding $25.

Last fall, the judge looked into Kmetz's finances and found Kmetz had a $170 monthly cable bill, a $10 subscription to Netflix and a YMCA membership. Rooda added Wednesday that Kmetz is now leasing a 2018 Chevrolet at $180 a month.

Defense attorney Scott King said Kmetz needs transportation to medical providers, and Kmetz canceled the other three personal expenses the court had pointed out as nonessential.

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King added Hunkee Hollow is also suing Kmetz in Lake Circuit Court for return of the rest of the stolen money outside the criminal court's restitution efforts.

King said Kmetz's only income now is his Social Security checks and some money his family provides for groceries and other necessities.

Rooda said Kmetz increased his restitution payment only "after the court wagged its finger at him."

The judge called Kmetz's previous payments over the past 14 months "a joke" and said the problem was Kmetz "has faced no hardship."

Nevertheless, the judge postponed sentencing for 60 days because of the new promises of increased restitution. "I want to see how this plays out. I still believe this organization should be made whole."

"I've sat in on hearings from the beginning and have listened to this judge give John Kmetz break after break after break," Cary Brooks, vice president of Hunky Hollow and board president of the Center for Possibilities said. "I listened to them split hairs today over his income and his bills, and I could only think of is, who is giving my kids a break? Who is giving these kids a second chance?"

Brooks said Kmetz's thefts were first discovered during a routine review of organization expenses that included a hotel in Shipshewana, Indiana, and a casino. He said Kmetz would withdraw $500 on a regular basis from the nonprofit's bank account. He said it isn't clear how much cash Kmetz could have stolen from fundraising events.

Speros Batistatos, CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority and a member of Hunkee Hollow, was also in the courtroom for Wednesday's hearing. He said he is "absolutely baffled" by the court's refusal to imprison Kmetz.

"It's better to get justice and restitution," he said.

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.