GRPD: Commissioner overcharged grieving families

A mug shot of Michael Wawee Jr. (Feb. 3, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids police say a Kent County commissioner was overcharging grieving families for the engraving of grave markers, according to court documents.

Commissioner Michael Wawee Jr. refused comment as he left the Kent County jail after posting bond Monday.

Wawee was officially charged Monday morning with embezzlement under $20,000 and false pretenses over $1,000.

The commissioner, whose district includes Walker and parts of Grand Rapids, is accused of embezzling from his employer, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids.

Carl Apple, communications director for the diocese, said the organization is “disappointed” with the developments.

Wawee is responsible for coordinating sales of grave plots at the five cemeteries operated by the diocese.

According to a transcript of testimony from a GRPD detective, Wawee was overcharging families for the engraving and then getting kickbacks from those performing the work.

“For instance, if it cost $120.00, he would bump up the price to $240.00,” GRPD Det. Mason Klein said. “The person that did the (engraving) work had logs, and they would actually note what their services cost and note… what they had to give back to Mike in cash, and, so, they actually provided a kickback.”

The detective went on to say that the diocese was not aware of the overcharging or the kickbacks.

The alleged kickback scheme came to light after the diocese contacted GRPD to report that Wawee was stealing gasoline from them.

 The gasoline theft prompted the diocese to put Wawee on administrative leave without pay.

It was the person who took over Wawee’s job that discovered the arrangement the commissioner allegedly had with the engravers.

Klein did not name the engravers.

Wawee, who has worked for the diocese for more than twenty years, was elected to the Kent County Board of Commissioners in 2010.

He was recently named chair of the board’s legislative committee and is running for re-election.

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