"I got in over my head."
That's the way convicted thief Gerald R. Weisenberger described the five-year situation of skimming $106,000 from the Norwalk Knights of Columbus Home Association. He said he kept telling himself he'd pay back the money to the local fraternal organization and eventually saved some funds to do so, but a cancer diagnosis changed that priority.
"We're not sure he's cancer-free," defense attorney John Allton said Tuesday.
With the kind of cancer Weisenberger has, Allton said it's doubtful his client has a long-term diagnosis.
In mid-April, Weisenberger, 67, of 9 E. Washington St., pleaded guilty to one count each of theft and securing writings by deception. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dismissed one count of theft. Weisenberger's June 11 sentencing hearing in Huron County Common Pleas Court was postponed to Tuesday due to his health issues.
Weisenberger, who has reimbursed KofC $4,500, must make monthly payments of $500 to the Knights during his five years of probation. Also, he must make the organization the sole beneficiary on his life insurance and isn't allowed to change it.
He must report to the Huron County Jail by 8 a.m. Aug. 1 to serve a 90-day sentence. The defendant also has another 90 days hanging over his head. If Weisenberger violates the terms of his probation, he faces 18 months in prison.
"This individual certainly took advantage of many trusting people -- not only his former KofC brothers, but also other organizations -- who have not come forward with his misdeeds," said one of the KofC victims, Doug Colvin, who accused Weisenberger of skimming money from several local organizations.
Weisenberger was the treasurer/secretary for the Norwalk Knights for 21 years. His convictions are for incidents between 2006 through 2011. The defendant said Tuesday he took $50 to $500 from various KofC accounts "several different times" to use for his business "with the intention of paying them back (with interest) when I could."
"As a former state auditor's employee, he certainly knew the procedure to manipulate the funds for his personal needs -- whatever they were," Colvin said. "False reports, phony CDs and even falsified federal tax returns didn't deter his actions. He simply utilized a system of trust."
The situation started when the Knights sold the property at 254 W. Main St. in September 2005. The group now rents the space in the building to hold meetings on a 10-year lease. The Knights sold the building and grounds for more than $150,000, with a down payment of $50,000, which included an agreement of $25,000 each year plus interest.
Through random checks and balances of computer statements provided by the bank, current KofC treasurer/secretary John Evans has said he discovered "there were clearly multiple CD transfers to a checking account" and cash withdrawals often cited by bank slip imaging records with Weisenberger's signature.
"I don't think he believes he took (more than) $100,000. He just took it a dollar at a time. Over time, it just added up," Evans said after Tuesday's hearing.
KofC representatives reported the thefts to the Norwalk Police Department in June 2013.
"His thefts far exceeded what he has been charged (with). We have only presented what has been easily documented and proven. His greed certainly took advantage of the many volunteers attempting to help the charitable purposes to which we are dedicated," Colvin said in court.
Visiting Judge Thomas Pokorny said what's most disturbing is Weisenberger had time to reflect on each offense from an organization committed to helping others, but he committed the thefts "time after time after time." Pokorny oversaw the case because local Judge Jim Conway is a member of the Norwalk KofC.