Former Caledonia, Mount Pleasant employee sentenced for fraud

James Svoboda

James Svoboda, a former employee of Caledonia and Mount Pleasant, was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison for crimes related to the theft of more than $350,000 from the villages.

Svoboda, 45, was charged with 16 total counts. He pleaded guilty to three of them: theft of movable property (greater than $100,000), misconduct in office and fraud.

A criminal complaint states Svoboda was a village of Caledonia employee and a contracted village of Mount Pleasant employee. He was the joint parks superintendent and a park liaison for the municipalities. He was also employed as the Caledonia cemetery worker.

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Charges against Svoboda

During his employment in those positions, authorities say Svoboda fraudulently endorsed checks, transferred money from a village bank account into a personal bank account, accepted payments intended for village services directly into a personal bank account and used village funds for personal purchases.

A forensic analysis of accounts related to Svoboda identified a theft of $335,912.10 from the village of Caledonia and $15,716.21 from the village of Mount Pleasant from approximately 2013 through March 2019 – a total of $351,628.31.

Caledonia-Mount Pleasant Memorial Park

The complaint states a number of suspicious ATM withdrawals and purchases were made using a village festival account –  including withdrawals that occurred at Wisconsin casinos. Some purchases made using money from the festival account included plane tickets, a laptop computer and a designer handbag.

The criminal complaint also states that Svoboda set up a private system – separate from an authorized system – to accept credit card payments. That payment system was directly linked to Svoboda's personal savings account instead of a village bank account.

Village of Caledonia

Authorities say they also uncovered photocopies of checks deposited into Svoboda's personal account; most of those checks were made out to "James Svoboda" and were intended for park pavilion rentals, field fees and cemetery burial expenses. Records showed, the complaint states, that Svoboda contacted a travel agent to make payments on a Costa Rica vacation immediately after that payment was processed and for a similar amount. It was also discovered that he altered cemetery plot deeds, making his signature required as opposed to the Village President and clerk. Authorities say he also received payments from citizens who ordered memorial park benches and kept the money for himself.

The complaint says Svoboda also used municipal funds to purchase an electric stove for his home, lumber, windows, home electronics and home repairs and upgrades.

Racine County Courthouse

Svoboda's office assistant told investigators that his spending habits changed. He bought a boat and would go on expensive vacations with no explanation of where the money was coming from. The assistant also told investigators that Svoboda almost exclusively handled and processed park funds.

Reports also indicated a burglary to Svoboda's office in March 2019 where documentation concerning field rental fees, hall/pavilion rentals, and cemetery burial information was stored -- such records were stolen from the office.

In addition to prison time, Svoboda was sentenced to seven years of extended supervision. The other 13 charges Svoboda faces were dismissed but read in at his sentencing as part of a plea agreement.

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