Former Allegan County Commissioner & Saugatuck Township Supervisor Terry Burns Arrested For Allegedly Embezzling Trust Funds
Former Allegan County Commissioner Terry Burns, who last fall withdrew his candidacy for a state House of Representatives seat after serving years in local government, was arrested and arraigned Wednesday (Feb. 26) in connection with allegedly embezzling money from a friend’s trust account.
Michigan State Police arrested Burns
and he was taken to the Allegan County Jail for processing. He was charged with
one felony count of embezzlement of a person in relation of trust with a
vulnerable adult over $20,000. If convicted, Burns could face up to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
Burns, 70, was video arraigned Wednesday before Allegan County District Judge Bill Baillargeon. He was released on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond and a March 6, 1 p.m. preliminary examination date (Burns’ attorney to meet with prosecutor) was set. A March 19 preliminary hearing in district court - unless waived by Burns and/or his attorney - has also been scheduled. Burns has waived his right to a court appointed attorney.
Burns could not be reached for comment Thursday morning.
Last fall, after he pulled out of the race for state representative, Burns cited the reason as being too emotionally upset after dealing with the August 12, 2013 car accident death of his daughter Kelly Burns-Mack who lived in Chicago with her husband and two boys.
Shortly after that, information surfaced that Burns allegedly stole thousands of dollars from a trust account that belonged to a long-time friend.
Burns admitted at that time he had “borrowed” the money, but has since returned it.
The Michigan State Police were then called in to investigate allegations that he embezzled the money.
Publicly, Burns said he borrowed the money during trying times, after the death of his daughter in a traffic crash.
Burns, a Saugatuck resident, was guardian for his friend, Joe Migas, who suffers from dementia and Parkinson’s disease, court records showed.
After the allegations of embezzlement by Burns surfaced, Allegan County Probate Judge Michael Buck last fall suspended the guardianship because of what he termed “possible financial exploitation” and “excessive expenditures.”
In an interview Thursday, Nov. 28 with the Grand Rapids Press, Burns said he made mistakes but has put the money he borrowed into the hands of his attorney, Brad Johnson.
He said allegations he took $80,000 from an account holding $167,000 was inaccurate because he used nearly $14,000 to renovate the house that Migas and his long-time girlfriend, Janet Fahey, share in Fennville.
But he acknowledged he shouldn’t have written checks on Migas’ account. Checks totaling nearly $11,000 were written by Burns to a political consultant.
“One thing that I want to tell everyone is that I borrowed a significant amount of money from the guardianship account which was under my control!” he wrote on Facebook.
“(L)et me be clear that all monies have been paid back in full by me to my attorney! … I owe you, the people, an explanation and an apology for my actions! My frame of mind has not been up to snuff the past couple of months because of what I referred to Tuesday.”
He was referring to the Aug. 12 death of his daughter.
He insisted his daughter’s death led to his decision to withdraw his bid for the state House of Representatives.
“This has been the most trying time I have ever experienced in my life, I need to put this behind me and if there is anything I left out I apologize again for being so naive and stupid!” said Burns at the time.
“As a grandfather of two boys, going through a significant trauma, my time is better spent with my family helping them, than campaigning for state representative.”
The allegations against Burns were spelled out in a report from Macatawa Bank, which had concerns about unusual activity associated with Migas’ account.
Burns had filed petitions in August 2012 seeking to have Migas found incompetent. Fahey was sole primary beneficiary. Burns was named contingent beneficiary, in the event anything happened to Fahey. Shortly after the appointment, Burns filed a petition to sell Migas’ 16 acres of property to the City of Douglas for $196,000.
The proceeds, $167,572, were deposited into a revocable trust last summer.
Within a few weeks, Fahey raised concerns to a branch manager that “money was being improperly removed, diverted and stolen from Mr. Migas’ accounts,” bank attorney Leslie Morant wrote in the report.
“The bank performed an internal review, and found that, in the three months since its deposit on July 23, 2013, the bank has noted an unusual amount of activity in the Migas’ accounts and roughly $80,000 of the $167,000 earned from the sale of the Migas’ property has already been spent by Mr. Burns,” Morant wrote.
The bank reported “enormous” withdrawals from a checking account, Morant wrote.
The bank raised concerns about checks paid to a political consultant.
The bank also noted that nearly $14,000 was spent on home improvements. Burns said the work was done on Fahey’s house.
Macatawa Bank alerted Adult Protective Services and the court over concerns that Burns transferred $20,000 monthly from the trust savings account to a checking account where it was spent.
“He did so again on Oct. 11, 2013,” Morant wrote. “At the present rate, Mr. Migas will have no money left to live on in just a few short months.”
Christopher Antkoviak, the guardian ad litem, recommended that any funds borrowed by Burns be identified and returned. He also asked that Burns be ordered to provide a full accounting of income and expenses of the trust since Burns took over.
Burns said at that time he had no intention of keeping money he said he borrowed. It has just been a tough time with his daughter’s loss.
“I’m paying back what I owe – that’s it,” he said. “The main thing is, Kelly, my daughter, is not here.”
Burns, a substance-abuse counselor in Holland, has served on the Allegan County Board of Commissioners and as supervisor of Saugatuck Township.