HARRISVILLE, Mich. -- As the elected treasurer of rural Alcona County for nearly 14 years and an accountant on the side, Thomas Katona did not look like an easy mark for con artists.
But in a case that has investigators and local residents scratching their heads, Katona is accused of embezzling a fortune from the county and losing it in a Nigerian investment scam. State Police suspect he lost more than $1.2 million, though the charges thus far involve just $186,500.
He also lost $72,500 of his own money, even after his bank warned he might be entangled in a swindle familiar to nearly anyone with an e-mail account, authorities said.
"You have to wonder how he could get involved in such a thing," said Sheriff Doug Ellinger, who is waiting to learn how his budget will be affected.
The money was taken not from the county's $4 million operating budget, but from investment accounts totaling $7 million that were used as a rainy-day fund and for capital purchases such as new police cars.
But it won't be clear how big a hit the county will take until auditors finish a review in a few months, said Kevin Boyat, Board of Commissioners chairman.
Some residents wonder why Katona, whom the voters kept electing even after he pleaded guilty to fraud in 1998, wasn't more closely supervised. Thomas Weichel, the county prosecutor, acknowledged there was "kind of a void in accountability."
Katona, 56, is jailed on $1 million bail, awaiting trial on charges of embezzlement, attempted embezzlement, and forgery. His lawyer would not comment.