Irons woman gets jail, ordered to pay restitution after stealing from Lake County senior center

BALDWIN  — Dozens of senior citizens filled Lake County's Trial Court on Tuesday to watch someone they once trusted be sentenced for embezzling funds from the Northwest Senior Center in Peacock Township.

Kathleen Cleo-Marie Varney, 30, or Irons, was sentenced to jail and probation, and also was ordered to pay restitution for taking thousands from the senior center.

In July, Varney was arrested and charged with one count of embezzling between $1,000 and $20,000 from a nonprofit. About a month ago, she entered a guilty plea to the count.

Judge Mark Wickens sentenced Varney to nine months in jail with credit for 17 days served. However, only half of the nine months  — 135 days  — is imposed at this time to be served up front. Wickens specified the remaining balance served at the court's discretion during the probation period.

Varney received 18 months probation, but if fines, court costs and restitution are not paid in that time, probation can be extended. While there are many stipulations for probation, a specific condition for Varney is she cannot work in a position where she has direct access or control over another person's money.

She also is ordered to pay $6,161 or restitution.

Before Varney was sentenced, Lake County Prosecutor Craig Cooper asked the judge to give the defendant the full nine months in jail, along with five years probation. He called the case "traumatic" for the members of the Northwest Senior Center.

"The members of the Peacock senior center placed their trust in her and that trust was abused, which raised suspicions for them. Everybody is on edge. They don't know who they can trust anymore," he said. "It's damaged them emotionally and it's damaged the morale at the senior center."

Three board members from the Northwest Senior Center in Peacock Township also spoke during the sentencing hearing, giving victim impact statements.

All three stressed how much Varney was trusted by everyone and how they felt taken advantage of.

Marsha Bouwkamp told the court how it was discovered Varney was stealing from the senior center. After some suspicions were raised and questionable documents found, it was determined Varney had been providing falsified bank statements.

"We discovered she had not banked any money since April 2015 and the account was almost empty," Bouwkamp said. "We then contacted the sheriff's office."

Many people worked hard to earn the money taken by Varney, Bouwkamp said, asking the court to impose jail time and restitution.

"Did she think we were too old to catch on to her?" she said, finishing her statement.

Varney's attorney, Melissa Dykman, said her client was remorseful for what happened and hoped to pay back the money quickly.

"I just want to pay back the restitution and get this over with," Varney said, briefly addressing the court.

Varney, who had been a volunteer employee at the senior center, had access to a checkbook the facility used for its senior meals program. It was revealed money had been improperly used during the course of a 13-month period. After an investigation by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Varney was arrested.