Former county employee gets nearly five years for stealing from vulnerable
ROGERS CITY — A former Presque Isle County employee who admitted to stealing over $200,000 from vulnerable adults to feed a gambling habit was sentenced to four years and nine months behind bars today.
Shilo Furgeson, former Presque Isle County public guardian, was fired in May 2019 and arrested several months later, accused of stealing money from the accounts of elderly or disabled people who depend on the county to coordinate their financial and legal services.
Furgeson, who was arrested three times last fall and arraigned on multiple charges of embezzlement, admitted taking a total of more than $207,000 from at least 15 people in her care over a four-year period in her role as public guardian.
Checks written by the defendant and payable to Furgeson or her boyfriend, removing over $10,000 from the bank accounts of several people — including one who is deceased — were “the tip of the iceberg,” according to police reports, when those checks surfaced in April 2019 and were reported to the probate court where Furgeson was employed.
Checks totalling about $68,000 from the deceased woman’s estate had been written by Ferguson to herself and her boyfriend, a search of bank records showed.
According to police reports, Furgeson initially told police the checks from the estate of the deceased woman were to reimburse herself for hours she worked preparing the woman’s house to be placed on the market.
Suspicious activity on Furgeson’s work computer led to the discovery of cash withdrawals, payments allegedly made to people who never received them, and discrepancies in reporting social security and other income, ultimately leading to the defendant’s arrest.
In a videoconferenced hearing today, Furgeson told the court she used the money to feed a gambling habit, spending an average of $3,200 per week at casinos.
Judge Charles Johnson of Emmet County said Furgeson’s crime goes beyond stealing. Victims were forced to pay higher insurance premiums, lost services, and were in fear of losing their homes because of the financial instability caused by the defendant, the judge said.
“The harm in that regard is extraordinary,” Johnson said.
Johnson presided over Furgeson’s case in place of Aaron Gauthier, circuit court judge for Presque Isle County, who recused himself so as to not preside over a case involving an employee of the courthouse where he works.
Victim impact statements, which the judge asked not be read aloud, referenced lost trust in Presque Isle County as a whole and in the government responsible for taking care of its most vulnerable residents.
Presque Isle County Prosecutor Ken Radzibon asked the judge to exceed recommended sentencing guidelines — which called for a minimum sentence of somewhere between 29 and 57 months — urging that he send Ferguson to prison for at least six years.
Reading from a prepared statement, Furgeson said she takes responsibility for her actions and regrets the hurt caused to the community and her family.
“I have failed as a parent,” she told the court. “I have failed as a human.”
The defendant has repaid almost all the money by way of a loan and use of a bonding company, Furgeson’s attorney said, asking that she be given no more than a local jail sentence.
He referenced a stash of over $50,000 in uncashed checks and bonds in her home, which he said Furgeson forgot about and later found and handed over to the Prosecutor’s Office, as proof of her intentions to reform.
Janice Lemmon, Furgeson’s successor as public guardian, said she didn’t believe her predecessor is rehabilitated.
“I believe the only reason she stopped doing what she was doing is because she got caught,” Lemmon told the court.
Johnson sentenced Furgeson to at least 57 months in prison, up to 15 years, with credit for two days served.