Mark Milatz, former pastor of the Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church in Brighton, abruptly resigned in December 2018.
More than three years later, he is accused of embezzling more than $50,000 in his role as pastor.
An investigation found that “Milatz transferred funds between his bank accounts and church accounts,” Michigan State Police Trooper Joe Pendergraff said in a hearing that led to charges. charges on January 5.
Pendergraff said the former pastor embezzled an “undetermined amount, less than $100,000 but more than $50,000.”
When Milatz resigned, a letter was sent to parishioners in which Milatz said he “acted recklessly” and made decisions he regretted.
“I have expressed sincere repentance to our board and have made amends where possible. Now I beg your pardon,” he wrote in the letter.
According to a Michigan State Police report, Milatz met with church staff, board members and the church’s attorney prior to his resignation to discuss “alleged abuse of funds”.
“Milatz resigned and expressed interest in reimbursing the church and a private settlement due to ‘false receipts and a large number of gift cards’.”
Milatz has been advised that “Michigan State Police will be contacted regarding further investigation,” MSP Det said. sergeant. Angela Hunt wrote in the report.
Public records indicate that Milatz moved from Livingston County to Wisconsin shortly after resigning as pastor.
“It was a long time coming,” said Robert Morad, Milatz’s attorney. “We hope we can put this case behind him.”
“Blatant criminal activity”
Milatz is accused of embezzling more than $250,000 from the church between 2011 and 2018, according to the report.
The state’s statute of limitations for embezzlement is six years, which means he cannot face charges of alleged thefts in previous years.
“After reviewing records provided by SOTL, it has been determined that many of the charges Milatz has made throughout his years with SOTL are questionable, violate church policy and border on legitimate grounds, this investigation will focus on a flagrant criminal activity by Milatz under the Statute of Limitations between May 2015 and November 2018,” Hunt wrote in the report.
On June 12, 2017, Shepherd of the Lakes board members approved an additional monthly stipend of $1,000 for Milatz, to be paid while the associate pastor position was open. The additional allowance should have been paid from July 2017 to November 2017.
However, Milatz received the additional $1,000 starting in May 2017 after asking the church’s financial assistant to initiate the payments, according to the report. He also told staff to continue the stipend until November 2018, the month his alleged embezzlement was discovered.
In his final two years as senior pastor, Milatz increased his own annual salary from $84,271.92 to $100,800. He cut his salary to $91,999.92 before his resignation, according to financial records.
The former church accountant told police she noticed ‘two unusual charges each month, including a $1,000 charge to Costco for organic meat and a $500 charge to VG for Visa cards which were billed to Christian Care”.
According to the report, the accountant brought the suspicious charges to the attention of another employee, who then contacted Milatz and the charges ceased. But not before buying $6,000 in gift cards.
The accountant told police that Milatz would submit receipts and issue reimbursement checks to himself on occasion.
She “said that all reimbursements from Milatz were approved by the business manager, so she continued the practice even though she thought it was unusual. Including the purchase of a wetsuit and a bicycle. for a triathlon he did that was unrelated to the church,” the report said.
Milatz would take gift cards from Meijer and Kohl that were to be used for church and use them himself, according to the report.
False receipts, missing fundraising funds
The former pastor also submitted fake receipts for books from Concordia Publishing House that exceeded $4,000, according to the report.
Milatz would copy and paste old receipts from the publishing company and submit them to the church for reimbursement despite the company normally billing the church directly.
“Milatz recognized that the Concordia receipts were not valid receipts and produced approximately 20 false receipts,” Hunt wrote in the report.
He is also accused of having pocketed part of the funds collected for a parishioner following a car accident. Milatz was instructed to present the parishioner with $2,000 raised through donations; he gave the man $1,500.
At the time, Milatz told organizers he didn’t know where the $500 went.
“I can only think the money was dropped at some point, although I can’t imagine how. I want to assure you with every fiber of my being that I did nothing duplicitous with the money,” he wrote in an email to one of the fundraisers.
During an interview with police in October 2021, Milatz admitted to taking the missing $500 from the envelope intended for the parishioner in need.
Milatz apologized to the church, board members and parishioners in a statement to police last year.
“I admitted my wrongdoing in that I received a monetary allowance for a longer period than expected, I falsified receipts and obtained money from the Church to which I was not entitled, and I used the church credit card for items such as gift cards for my personal use,” he wrote in the statement.
Milatz said he was “selfish” and “unhealthy” while at church.
“Struggles with anxiety and depression led to alcohol abuse and other toxic behaviors,” he wrote. “One bad decision ended up leading to another, and in a short time I lost myself. I held a position of trust and I regret having betrayed my vocation.”
Milatz said in the report that he is willing to plead guilty and pay for the things he bought for himself,
He is expected to be arraigned on February 4.
Contact Kayla Daugherty at 517-552-2848 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @KayDaugherty92
This article originally appeared on Livingston Daily: Ex-pastor charged with embezzlement from Brighton Township Church