By Jessica Mathews /

The former pastor of a local church accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars has entered a plea in the case.

Mark Milatz had been the Senior Pastor at the Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church in Brighton since 2010. In December of 2018, Milatz tendered his immediate resignation from both the church and from Ordained Ministers of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. In January, the Livingston County Prosecutor’s Office authorized a charge of embezzlement of $50,000 or more against Milatz.

His case was bound over to Livingston County Circuit Court, where he has since pleaded guilty as charged. The plea involves a jail cap and an agreement that Milatz pay an additional $50,000 to the victim, the church. Records show that his attorney requested a delayed sentence to obtain funds for restitution, which prosecutors objected to and the judge denied.

Sentencing is set for May 26th and the court stipulated that Milatz must appear in person.

He remains free on a $40,000 personal recognizance bond. The court earlier ordered that he be allowed to leave the state, as he currently lives in Wisconsin.

The alleged embezzlement began in January of 2011. An investigation by Michigan State Police revealed that Milatz transferred money between his personal bank accounts and church accounts. The improprieties came to light after the church’s bookkeeper began noticing unusual charges every month and became suspicious. Milatz is accused of embezzling more than $250,000 from 2011 to 2018, but he couldn’t be charged for some of the earlier alleged thefts due to Michigan’s Statute of Limitations.

The church issued a communication following the plea hearing, which representatives from the church and congregation attended.

Pastor Ben Bruns said that as stated at the beginning of the process almost four years ago, they made the decision to not pursue a civil suit and left it up to Michigan State Police and the Livingston County Prosecutor’s Office to proceed as they saw fit with their criminal investigation.

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