Scottville woman rejects plea in conservator embezzlement case

August 18, 2023

Jessica Englebrecht is sworn in by Judge Timothy Hicks. Seated next to her is defense attorney Tracie Dinehart. At right is Michigan Assistant Attorney General Daniel Gunderson.

Scottville woman rejects plea in conservator embezzlement case

The case is scheduled for a 10-day trial beginning Sept. 6

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor

LUDINGTON — A 36-year-old Scottville woman charged with 11 criminal counts in connection to embezzling funds from wards of the court under a conservatorship rejected a plea deal in Mason County’s 51st Circuit Court Friday, Aug. 18.

Jessica Michelle Englebrecht faces charges for allegedly abusing her authority as a guardian and embezzling from 11 vulnerable adults who she was appointed by the Mason County Probate Court to protect.

Michigan Assistant Attorney General Daniel Gunderson with the Financial Crimes Division offered a plea agreement in which Englebrecht could have pleaded “no contest” to one felony count of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult and a misdemeanor of commingling funds from a vulnerable adult. The other nine charges would have been dismissed.

“If you were to accept the offer, you generally would do no jail time at all,” said retired Muskegon County Judge Timothy Hicks, who is presiding over the case. Englebrecht’s sentence would have included probation. “I agree not to impose jail. The victims do not object to that.”

Judge Timothy Hicks

However, in light of her rejecting the plea offer, Englebrecht’s case will go to trial. A 10-day jury trial is set for Sept. 6-8; Sept. 11-15; and Sept. 18 and 19.

“You will have to win 11 times to avoid a sentence,” said the judge. The maximum penalty is five years. “With a five year maximum, it could be a prison sentence for you.

“If you have a trial, all the dirty wash gets laid out. Some of it is pretty damning evidence. Going to trial affects the sentencing decision.” 

However, the judge said she has “the absolute right to a trial. I won’t penalize you at trial for turning this down.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel initially filed eight felony counts, one high court misdemeanor and three misdemeanors against Englebrecht who was arraigned Nov. 13, 2020. She was arraigned on the following charges:

  • Eight counts of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult – $1,000 or more but less than $20,000, a five-year felony and/or a $10,000 fine, or three times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater;
  • One count of vulnerable adults – caregiver commingling funds/obstructing investigations, a two-year high court misdemeanor and/or $25,000 fine; and
  • Three counts of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult – $200 or more but less than $1,000, a one-year misdemeanor and/or a $2,000 fine, or three times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater.

Englebrecht told the Traverse City Record Eagle in a May 22, 2022 article that she was being unfairly targeted by the AG’s office.

Judge Hicks, who is filling in for 51st Circuit Court Judge Susan K. Sniegowski due to scheduling conflicts, said, “This deal goes away today.” Sniegowski is presiding over a murder trial in Oceana County’s 51st Circuit Court during the same time frame. 

Michigan State Police began investigating Englebrecht in 2019 following a referral from Adult Protective Services. It is alleged that Englebrecht embezzled more than $20,000 from the 11 vulnerable adults. Englebrecht was appointed as a guardian and/or conservator for the adults from 2017 to 2019. She allegedly used her position of power to gain control over her clients’ finances.

“Cases like this are precisely why my office has a unit specifically charged with evaluating reports of elder abuse and why there are a number of assistant attorneys general and investigators assigned to pursue bad actors,” Nessel said at the time. “It is appalling that someone the court trusted to look after the finances of these vulnerable adults may have taken advantage of their positions, and I am grateful to the Michigan State Police and especially Trooper Kelsey Case for her perseverance and commitment to finding out the truth. Michigan’s Elder Abuse Task Force has recommended the certification of guardians to ensure they are qualified to serve the individuals under their care, and I am fully supportive of that measure.”

Attorney General Nessel has made elder abuse a top priority for her administration, assisting in the creation of the Michigan Elder Abuse Task Force. The task force has outlined several recommendations to improve protections for Michigan’s elderly populations, including proposing a certification requirement for those serving as guardians. Currently, no qualifications or training is necessary to be a guardian — just a judge’s appointment.

Engelbrecht’s case file includes “voluminous records,” said Judge Hicks. “The file is a foot thick and probably 20 pounds.”

Engelbrecht is free on a $7,500 personal recognizance bond. 

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