GRAND RAPIDS — The manager of a nonprofit program meant to help poor Grand Traverse region families winterize their homes instead lined his own pockets and bought a boat, according to court documents.
Steve Taylor, of Lake Ann, pleaded guilty to two federal charges — theft from an organization receiving federal program funds and tax evasion — in a Grand Rapids courtroom Tuesday afternoon. The guilty plea comes just days after the U.S. Department of Justice filed the felony charges against Taylor on Aug. 16.
Court documents filed by federal prosecutors state Taylor operated a scheme that raked in $320,000 — money prosecutors said Taylor stole while running the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency’s weatherization department between May 2016 and December 2017.
The program offers weatherization help to income-limited northern Michiganders.
The nonprofit contracts with the state to serve 10 Lower Peninsula counties, including Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Kalkaska, Benzie and Antrim, and is funded largely by U.S. Departments of Energy and Health and Human Services grants.
Taylor submitted fake invoices to NMCAA under E=MC2, a shell company he created and portrayed as a winterization material contractor, according to court records. Taylor then pocketed checks cut by NMCAA via a bank account in the shell company’s name, records state.
He earned the second charge by changing his personal bank account into an E=MC2 business account to hide stolen cash from the IRS. Taylor didn’t file taxes at all in 2016 or 2017.
He worked for NMCAA from 2012 to 2018.
NMCAA Executive Director Kerry Baughman referred comment to a written statement Wednesday.
“After a thorough internal assessment, evidence indicates that this incident did not impact the quality and scope of services provided to our clients,” the statement reads. “We remain committed to strengthening our communities by empowering individuals and families to achieve greater economic security, self-sufficiency and independence.”
Taylor’s plea fulfilled an agreement with prosecutors that grants him immunity from any other disclosed, non-violent crimes during his NMCAA tenure. Prosecutors also pledged not to oppose Taylor’s yet-to-be-filed request for a reduced offense level — a move that, if approved by the court, could net a lighter sentence.
Taylor’s charges carry maximum punishments of 10 and 5 years in prison, respectively. Both tout hefty fines — $250,000 or twice Taylor’s gain from each crime, whichever is greater.
The fines are separate from restitution Taylor also agreed to pay — the $324,780 he stole from NMCAA and $91,036 in unpaid taxes.
Taylor’s spoils — a $25,000-some bank account and an 18.5-foot boat — are forfeit toward those hefty sums under the agreement.
He was assigned a public defender in the case, attorney Sean Tilton, who did not return calls for comment.
NMCAA officials contacted law enforcement officials immediately after discovering the suspected scheme, according to Baughman’s written statement, and have since conducted a full audit of the nonprofit’s programs and changed policy to prevent such theft in the future.
Health and Human Services, Department of Energy and IRS mainly handled the investigation, a Department of Justice official speaking on background said Wednesday. Michigan State Police handled an initial report of the crimes.
A second case against Taylor was filed — and then closed — in March 2019. Its files remain sealed, and the DOJ official could not speak to its contents.
Taylor is free Tuesday on an unsecured $10,000 bond. His sentencing is yet to be scheduled.
See updates at www.record-eagle.com.