Credit union embezzler pleads no contest in state case
Pontiac — Admitted embezzler Michael LaJoice pleaded no contest Monday in Oakland Circuit Court to 14 state charges of $1.9 million in theft from the Clarkston Brandon Credit Union in exchange for a minimum seven-year prison sentence.
LaJoice, 38, formerly of Tyrone Township, was sentenced last week in U.S. District Court to 11 years in prison on federal charges he looted more than $18.6 million total from the same credit union during a 12-year span while he was its chief financial officer.
Monday’s plea was accepted by Judge Cheryl Matthew. The 14 state offenses specifically relate to unlawfully withdrawing funds from accounts and converting them to his own use between October and mid-December 2015.
LaJoice will be sentenced May 1, with the term to run concurrently with his federal imprisonment. Monday’s plea is expected to spare the time and expense of an unneeded trial since he will already be in prison for his crimes.
“This agreement is for a seven-year minimum sentence and a 20-year maximum,” said LaJoice’s attorney, Michael Manley. “If the sentence imposed (May 1) is not reasonable, he can withdraw the no-contest plea and go to trial.”
Under state law, the circuit judge sets a minimum sentence which must be served before any parole consideration. The state legislature determines the maximum penalty for crimes.
There is no parole under federal penalties but prisoners receive “good time” credit for good behavior — about 45 days per each year in prison. Hypothetically, a prisoner in the federal system can expect to serve about 85 percent of his or her minimum sentence.
In this case, both the state and federal offenses involve repeated withdrawals LaJoice covered up by creating bogus investment records overlooked in annual audits.
LaJoice was known for his generosity to his community, including once paying $4,000 for a pie at a church fundraising auction. But investigators found he was living well beyond the means of his $65,000 annual salary: creating and promoting dance studios; making commercial property deals for an ambitious, never realized $31 million mixed-use project; taking luxury vacations with his family; and remodeling a $4.1 million home with high-end appliances and a home movie theater.
Under his federal sentence, LaJoice, who is married and a father of three young children, has been ordered to make restitution of the entire $18.6 million. How that will be realized is unclear.
Investigators seized several LaJoice bank accounts containing $733,963, and combined with the sale of LaJoice’s residential and commercial properties, restitution to date totals about $3.5 million, Manley said.
“I don’t really know if full restitution can ever be made,” Manley said outside court Monday. “But they have taken everything he owns, including his car.”
LaJoice, who has dropped more than 100 pounds but grown a full beard during his incarceration, could have been sentenced to up to 30 years in federal court.
He was confronted by an auditor and credit union officials in 2016 about questionable bookkeeping. LaJoice told them he could explain the discrepancies and left work.
Two days later, he walked into the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and admitted he was an embezzler. The confession stunned police and rocked his former co-workers and neighbors.
“This has affected many, many people,” Manley said.
Earlier this year, under a state-appointed conservator, the federally-insured state-chartered credit union, with 8,536 members and assets of $68.5 million, merged with the larger Michigan State Federal Credit Union. It continues operations at its Ortonville Road location.