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A 79-year-old Flint man has been sentenced to five years probation and $698 in fines for stealing nearly $37,000 in gaming funds from a Catholic church.

David Lee Thiese received the sentence Tuesday in Genessee County Circuit Court, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

He also has to pay the church, the St. Pius X Catholic Church and School in Flint, restitution.

Thiese pleaded guilty in February to a felony charge of embezzlement and faced up to 15 years in prison.

Police said he took $36,862 in gaming funds from the church and kept the money for his personal use. Thiese controlled a bank account the church used for its charitable gaming profits, they said.

Between 2012 and 2014, the charities earned the church about $60,000 through 28 events. Police said Thiese kept all but $23,000 of the proceeds.

Charges against Thiese came after a gaming control board investigation into events held at the former Gloria’s Poker Palace, Lucky’s Poker Room and Pocket Aces. The three so-called “poker rooms” are among several locations where charitable gaming was discontinued following investigations by the Michigan Attorney General’s office and the MGCB.

Thiese is the 15th person associated with the poker rooms to plead guilty to charitable gaming crimes since 2014.

“It’s so important for charities to maintain proper oversight and accounting practices to prevent financial crime,” Richard Kalm, the gaming control board's executive director, said in a statement Wednesday. “It’s unfortunate when MGCB investigators review event results and discover fraud, but we are here to help charities when a crime happens.”

cramirez@detroitnews.com 

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