Former petunia parade chair sentenced to jail

June 10, 2014
Donna Brown, left, with her attorney David Betz.

Donna Brown, left, with her attorney David Betz.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — The former chairwoman of the Ludington Petunia Parade was sentenced to nine months in jail today in 51st Circuit Court for stealing almost $50,000 from the community supported organization.

Donna Brown, 60, pleaded guilty in April for embezzling $47,817.15 from the Petunia Parade from 2008 to 2013. That money was raised through donations from individuals, businesses, industries and the Community Foundation of Mason County.

Embezzlement of more than $20,000 but less than $50,000 is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The penalty also could include paying three times the amount embezzled. However, Brown was offered a plea agreement today by Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola of six months in jail, serving four months in confinement and then 60 days on a tether.  She also will have to pay restitution in the amount stolen.

See related story here. 

“I was borrowing the money and I was going to pay it back. I started feeling more comfortable writing checks and writing checks. It was probably a greed thing. I wanted more and and I got more,” Brown said during her plea hearing in April.

Brown explained that she was one of four people on the eight person committee who had access to the checkbook. She said she wrote the checks out to cash. She said there was really no checks and balances system in place.

“I used the money to pay personal bills, buy food for my family, medical expenses I incurred at that point,” she said.

“It is very troubling in this particular case that the defendant used her position of trust with the Ludington Petunia Parade to steal over $47,000,” Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola said. “One of the signature events of Mason County, a community beautification project, that contributed to this community, one of the primary vacation destinations in the State of Michigan if not the Midwest. This defendant used her position to steal from this non profit charitable organization, apparently to make her own ends meet.”

Petunia Parade committee member Kathy Webster addressed the court. She said the petunia parade committee requests the maximum sentence, expects a letter of apology to the community from Brown and full restitution. The maximum sentence would be up to 10 years in prison. However, Brown had already pleaded to the six month sentence.

“I would like to apologize to all the victims, my family and my husband and I will do what I need to do to get it all behind me,” Brown said.

Brown will serve 4 months in the county jail and 60 days on an electronic monitoring tether. She must also pay full restitution.

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