Former state commission leader sentenced in embezzling statue funds

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The former executive director of the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan has been sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay nearly $86,000 in restitution for embezzling funds to build a Cesar Chavez statue in Lansing, said state Attorney General Dana Nessel.

A probe found that from 2013-15, Maria Louisa Mason of Lansing transferred state funds for the memorial to the American labor and civil rights activist to a nonprofit and local community center’s bank accounts, but moved the money to her personal accounts to pay credit cards, Nessel's office said in a statement.

Mason, who was known as Marylou, had spent 30 years leading the commission, which works to enroll more Hispanic Michiganians in post-secondary education and training programs.

She had been inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014 and retired the next year with an annual salary of $104,317, according to the state Department of Civil Rights.

“State employees are expected to act in the best interest of the residents of this state,” Nessel said. “Ms. Mason’s actions were a substantial breach in public trust and blatant abuse of power. I’m thankful the funds she wrongfully stole are finally being restored."

Mason, 82, was charged in 2017 and in October pleaded guilty to one count of felony embezzlement of $50,000 or more but less than $100,000.

As part of the sentence entered Thursday, Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina also ordered five years of probation.

A judicial lien also was entered requiring property Mason owns in northern Michigan to be sold and the money applied to the restitution, the Attorney General's Office said.