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Man sentenced to prison after embezzling from Grand Rapids church

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Posted at 1:17 PM, May 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-14 13:17:42-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Grand Rapids man who was accused of stealing more than $812,000 from his church has been sentenced to five to 15 years in prison, Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker told Fox 17 on Friday.

Christian Bileth, 56, allegedly stole the money from St. John’s United Church of Christ between March 2014 and the end of 2019, according to an incident report from the Grand Rapids Police Department.

It happened while he served as treasurer of the church and was in charge of its investment accounts.

He was also ordered to pay $819,245 in restitution.

Though Bileth’s sentencing is above the penalty typically imposed, Kent County Circuit Judge Mark Trusock took into account the amount of money taken and the fact the victim was a church.

“It was somewhat unique in that he had ties to the church because he was a member, and he was seen as an elder and someone in leadership,” GRPD St. John Wittowski previously told Fox 17.

The money could have a huge impact on the long-term viability of the church.

If the missing funds cannot be recovered, it’s concerning to employees and the entire congregation.

St. John’s United Church of Christ has 119 members.

Bileth used the money to pay medical bills, according to his attorney, but understands that was not an excuse for his actions.

READ MORE: Man facing felony charges accused of stealing $800k from Grand Rapids church