Embezzler sentenced to two to 15 years in prison

CASSOPOLIS — With the Law and Courts Building closed to the public until mid-April, the Circuit Court sentencing docket was a little different Friday. Defendants appeared via closed circuit television from the jail, and the courtroom was empty except for the judge, lawyers and court staff.

This was the second week of restrictions at the Law and Courts Building as well as at courthouses in Berrien County were in place in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Last week, Cass court officials limited the number of people in the courtroom to 10 people as did Berrien County court officials this week.

All the changes and closures relative to court proceedings are the result of a March 17 Michigan Supreme Court Order which called on local courts to limit court proceedings and adjourn all civil jury trials and most criminal jury trials unless defendants are in custody. Other court proceedings are being done online, via telephone or being delayed.

Friday’s Cass Circuit Court docket featured four sentencings including two men being sent to prison. In addition to the defendants appearing remotely from the jail, defense attorneys Robert Drake and James Miller called in to the courtroom, as did a victim.

Blair Allen Mitchell, 25, of Pearl Street in Cassopolis, pleaded guilty to attempted embezzlement over $1,000 and under $20,000 and was sentenced to two to 15 years in prison and $3,671.56 in fines, costs and restitution.

The incident occurred Sept. 29 in Ontwa Township near Edwardsburg. Two other charges, one of embezzlement over $1,000 and under $20,000, and one of embezzlement over $200 and under $1,000, were dismissed in the case.

Mitchell also pleaded to a misdemeanor larceny charge and was given credit for time served from an Oct. 21 larceny incident involving the theft of tennis shoes. He is currently on parole from an April 2018 Berrien County prison sentence for stealing/retaining a financial transaction device without consent.

His past record includes several other convictions for theft, breaking and entering and property damage, primarily in Cass County. He has 13 criminal convictions including seven felonies.

According to published reports, when he was 17, he and others broke into the Park Shore Golf Course in Cassopolis, stole 16 golf carts and went on a joy ride. They also stole a forklift, and he sprayed graffiti on a nearby train underpass.

In another case, a Holland area man was also sentenced to prison.

Nathan Witteveen, 32, of Holland, pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamines, being a felon in possession of a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon and was sentenced to 28 months to 15 years in prison. He must pay fines and costs of $1,734.

The incident occurred July 4 in Volinia Township.

Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz noted that at age 32, Witteveen has 32 criminal convictions. Fitz called him a “clear and present danger” to the community with many assaultive, drug, property damage and resisting police convictions. Most of Witteveen’s convictions were in Allegan County prior to this incident.

“He has to pay the price, but if he does things right, he has most of his life ahead of him,” Fitz said.

Also Friday:

William Calvin Payne, 48, of Cassopolis, pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamines and was sentenced to two years’ probation, credit for 209 days already served and fines and costs of $1,548.

The incident occurred May 8, 2019, in Milton Township.

Aaryn Renee Gilliam, 25, of Edwardsburg, pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamines, possession of contraband by a prisoner and larceny in a building and was sentenced to three years’ probation, 365 days in jail with credit for 114 days already served and fines and costs of $1,608.

The incident occurred April 26, 2019.