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Editor

Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.

John Kmetz stole from special needs children whose families already lacked the resources for the often-expensive services associated with Cerebral palsy.

There are few worse forms of thievery imaginable, especially because Kmetz, of Merrillville, had been entrusted as treasurer for a Region nonprofit whose mission was to benefit these children.

Justice-minded people in the Region are still waiting for Kmetz to face his punishment after Lake County Judge Salvador Vasquez has offered the thief second chance after second chance, despite Kmetz’s 2017 guilty plea and then long-running failure to pay the required restitution by court-imposed deadlines.

Kmetz, 81, has yet to see a day behind bars, though he sorely deserves to be there. Board members of the collective nonprofit — Hunky Hollow Athletic Club and Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Indiana’s Center for Possibilities — say after months of failing to pay, Kmetz has finally begun to hit a court-imposed restitution schedule that should be complete in about four years.

Any restitution will pale in comparison to the more than $100,000 nonprofit officials believe was stolen. Kmetz only pleaded guilty to stealing about $12,000.

But a measure of sweet satisfaction arrived this past week as generous, community-minded Regionites stepped forth with the perfect response to Kmetz's thievery.

It's a case of answering despicable greed with benevolent giving, and we all should take note.

Count Dave Wilson Jr., 56, of Hobart, as one of the many Northwest Indiana folk whose stomach turned at Kmetz's actions.

Wilson has read the continuous coverage of the Kmetz theft case in The Times.

He's read about the victims — Region children suffering from Cerebral palsy whose families turn to the nonprofit for help funding services they otherwise would not be able to afford.

Like many who read our articles and editorials on the topic, Wilson grew disgusted with the plethora of courtroom leniency Kmetz has received, though the judge in the case has acknowledged Kmetz has in the past violated terms of the plea deal by not paying the prescribed restitution.

Wilson said the repugnant feeling grew after he learned Kmetz’s crime was impacting the nonprofit’s ability to raise funds because of the reputation and trust issues created by Kmetz.

But unlike most of us who just express disgust, Wilson took action.

"The whole thing was just gnawing at me," said Wilson, noting he felt a strong draw to help the organization. "This wasn't right. It needed to be made right."

Through The Times coverage, he learned the nonprofit was attempting to raise money to make a playground at its Hobart facility ADA accessible for the children it serves.

Wilson owns and manages Hobart-based Monroe Pest Control together with his sister, Kelly Tichacek, and father, David Wilson Sr.

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After discussing the despicable narrative with sister and father, Wilson Jr. said the trio decided to donate $15,000 from the business to the nonprofit to help with the playground expenses.

But it didn't stop there.

Wilson Jr. reached out to friend and former Hobart High School classmate Speros Batistatos, who sits on the nonprofit’s board of directors.

The two devised a plan to grow that $15,000 donation.

On Tuesday, supporters of Hunky Hollow and Center for Possibilities gathered at St. Elijah in Merrillville for the Cerebral palsy nonprofit's annual picnic.

Batistatos announced the $15,000 gift and then played the role of carnival barker at the event, challenging attendees to come up with matching funds.

Within 10 minutes of auction-style solicitations and pledges over a microphone at the event, generous donors collectively contributed another $22,500 to "match" Wilson's gift.

Game, set and match for generosity and benevolence over unconscionable thievery.

The accessible playground project now has $37,500 of about $70,000 needed.

So more donations are being sought.

Anyone seeking to follow the example of Wilson and motivated by drowning out, in any measure possible, the greedy impact of a thief should consider giving to this worthy project.

Checks in any amount can be sent to Center for Possibilities, 22 Tyler St., Hobart, IN 46342.

Wilson started it.

"We feel like our family and business have been blessed over the years, and we feel like it's our responsibility to give back," Wilson said.

Now other able donors can finish it.

Donations to this effort should roll like rocks from the high ground, smashing the essence of Kmetz's crime.

Local News Editor Marc Chase can be reached at 219-933-3327 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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