Late last week, it looked like the sad, shameful saga of thief John F. Kmetz would finally end.

He was on the hook and would finally go to jail for failing to pay a portion of his $12,000 restitution, and a lump sum of $5,000 — after consistently and flagrantly violating his probation — for stealing from a nonprofit that since the 1960s has provided day care and activities to those with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. Or he would pay up.

He didn't pay up. And yet another extension was granted by Lake County Judge Salvador Vasquez, this time to March 27.

Sixty days, 20 days, six days — it doesn't seem to matter how long and how many times the 81-year-old is given to make amends to the nonprofit. In postponement after postponement, he fails to make it right.

The judge talks tough, and then gives extension after extension to a man who pleaded guilty in March 2017 to stealing thousands from the Center for Possibilities, run by Hunky Hollow Athletic Club and Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Indiana. Most of those who attend the daycare are special needs and low-income people and youth.

Specifically, it was determined by Cary Brooks, vice president of Hunky Hollow, that a review of bank records showed Kmetz withdrew $110,000 from ATMs on the nonprofits' accounts over seven years ending in 2017.

Kmetz, however, could be charged only for the thefts that occurred within the five-year statute of limitations, or almost $55,000, between 2011 and 2015.

Brooks said the annual budget for the day care program is $300,000, and it's a struggle to raise funds. "He wasn't stealing from a big corporation that could absorb the loss," Brooks has said. "He stole from these kids."

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And though Kmetz's attorney, Scott King, said "a significant amount" of Kmetz's withdrawals were used for business purposes, Brooks said there were "20 debit card purchases not consistent with the operation of the organizations." Those included tickets for an ABBA concert, car rentals and gas station purchases in Florida and Michigan.

"What alerted us to the nefarious activities was a $250 to $350 charge at Blue Gate Inn & Suites in Shipshewana (Indiana)" and a casino, Brooks testified way back in 2017. He said Kmetz also would withdraw $500 regularly from the nonprofit's bank account.

Before the thefts were discovered, Kmetz suggested at a board meeting that the tuition paid by those attending the Center for Possibilities day care should be doubled to $10 from $5, that there was a "cash flow problem," and that he should be paid $500 a month because he was at the center three days a week.

Kmetz was sentenced in September 2017 to four years in prison — all suspended in favor of probation, and ordered to pay more than $12,000 in restitution. In January 2019 — his third reprieve in nearly two years — he was found guilty of violating his probation and ordered to pay a lump $5,000 payment.

At that time, Judge Vasquez told Kmetz he faced two options: make good on new promises to pay the $5,000 by March and make 31 additional payments of at least $230 per month for the remainder of his probation — or go to prison.

Nonetheless, on March 21, Vasquez set yet another hearing, this time for March 27.

Enough is enough. Extending such breaks and extensions defies logic — and mocks justice. This time, stern admonitions by the judge should not be followed by lax, preferential treatment of an admitted criminal.

All eyes should be on the judge on March 27 to see if this thief finally gets his due reckoning.


Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Assistant Local News Editor Crista Zivanovic and Regional News Editor Sharon Ross.