It seems that a month doesn't go by without another high profile embezzlement case hitting Delta County's court system. The regularity in which these crimes are emerging appears to be almost epidemic.
Here is just a sampling of just some of the recent embezzlement cases reported in these pages
l A former business manager at Big Bay de Noc School embezzled $800,000 over the years. The business manager died before she could be charged.
l A Delta County woman stole money collected through fund-raisers for a 12-year-old cancer victim.
l An employee of Lakestate Industries was discovered allegedly converting funds for their own use.
l A township clerk is being prosecuted for allegedly taking township funds.
These are only a sampling of many, many embezzlement cases that have occurred in the local area in recent years. Victims range from individuals to non-profits organizations to businesses to numerous to mention.
Why is this happening? There probably isn't any one clear cut reason as to why people embezzle. In some cases, those caught have cited a gambling problem. Others said they took money because of hard financial times. The reasons vary and are probably as numerous and distinctive as the cases themselves.
What is known is the terrible damage these cases have brought to the area. The Upper Peninsula truly has a culture of trust. We are good neighbors and trust our friends, co-workers and acquaintances. The saddest part is we probably all have been too trustful.
In sentencing one embezzler, Delta County Circuit Court Judge Stephens Davis said the woman had harmed fund-raisers in the area because the public could no longer trust that the money they give will not be stolen.
Unfortunately, this is all too true. Trust has probably been the biggest casualty in the area's wave of embezzlements. No matter how trustful we would like to be, being vigilant seem to the the order of the day.
A good first step on the road of not becoming a victim is happening this week in Escanaba. The Community Foundation for Delta County is sponsoring a free Embezzlement and Theft Prevention Seminar from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday in the M-TEC at Bay College. Area businesses, schools, churches, charities, government officials and concerned citizens are invited to attend. Admission is free and open to the public.
A variety of experts ranging from law enforcement officers to embezzlement victims are scheduled to speak. A 90-minute version of the seminar will also be offered Thursday during the "Proudly Made in Delta County" Business-to-Business Expo, also in the M-TEC.
Anyone who is involved in financial dealings - public or private - should take the time to attend this seminar. Trust is a wonderful thing - but so is being smart.