Man who embezzled $819,000 from Grand Rapids church headed to prison
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A man who misappropriated nearly $ 820,000 from a Grand Rapids church for over five years is jailed.
Christian Bileth, 56, was a former Treasurer of the United Church of Christ at St. John, 1934 Bridge St. NW, and ran the Church’s investment accounts.
He was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison on Thursday, May 13, well above proposed sentencing guidelines for judges to impose sentences.
Mark Trusock, a Kent County Circuit judge, said the guidelines don’t take into account the massive amount of money or that the victim was a church.
“I mean, you’ve been doing this every month for 70 months,” Trusock said of Bileth’s money for his own use.
Trusock said the church had 119 members.
“Essentially, you took this from 119 families. And you took it from a church, ”he said.
Bileth’s attorney Jeffrey Kirchhoff said Bileth “understands that what he’s done is as bad as it gets.”
Bileth used the money to pay cancer-related medical bills and keep his business going, Kirchhoff said. Bileth ran a company called Core Audit Consulting.
The embezzlement began in March 2014 and ended in December 2019.
Church officials became suspicious in 2019 when a Church member training to become a treasurer discovered that Church investment accounts had not been matched against church records. Bileth told others at the time that he had specific financial skills to interpret investment statements and assured them that he would handle the reconciliations.
In late 2019, a member of the Church who was supposed to act as the secondary signatory for the investment accounts also died.
According to a police report, church leaders told investigators that Bileth “dragged his feet” early last year while adding a new second signatory and prevented other church members from accessing records for the investment accounts.
Ultimately, church leaders discovered that Bileth had written 66 checks from a church account to Core Audit Consulting.
Kirchhoff said Bileth understands that using the money on medical bills is not an excuse.
“It’s just an explanation of how it gets a little easier over the years when you start dipping your fingers in the till and he let himself go down that slippery slope,” he said.
Bileth made no comment.
Trusock also said there was no excuse for stealing the money.
“I’m sorry you have cancer and I’m sorry you need treatment, but that is not an excuse or justification for what you did,” Trusock told him.
As part of the verdict, Bileth was ordered to pay $ 819,245 in restitution.
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