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February 22, 2012 | 08:08 AMELKHORN — Star Center Elementary School first-grade teacher Johnalee A. Kawalec, 43, faces a felony charge of theft after she allegedly stole more than $50,000 from an elderly man whose finances were left in her care.
Officially, Kawalec faces a charge of theft of more than $10,000, but the victim claims that between 2005 and 2011, Kawalec wrote more than $50,000 worth of checks without his permission.
If convicted, Kawalec, W1544 Lake Geneva Highway, village of Bloomfield, faces up to 10 years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines.
Kawalec was charged last week and is not in class this week due to surgery, according to Lake Geneva Schools officials.
A few weeks ago, she told school leaders, including Star Center Principal Betsy Schroeder and District Superintendent Jim Gottinger, about her legal troubles. However, Gottinger said she didn't tell him the severity of the pending charges.
Gottinger and Schroeder did not know the charges had been filed until they were contacted by the Regional News Monday.
Kawalec's attorney, Vincent Bauer, said he is compiling information on the case and is "confident we'll be able to find a resolution."
Gottinger said he couldn't speak further about the situation and plans to discuss the issue with the district's legal counsel as the case proceeds through the court system. A March 6 preliminary hearing has been scheduled.
According to the criminal complaint:
Police met with a man who said that in July 2005 he appointed his nephew's wife, Kawalec, and his nephew as his power of attorney.
The victim told police he was receiving income from a pension, Social Security and from rental properties. Kawalec was suppose to deposit those checks every month.
However, when the victim reviewed his account, he saw that all the checks weren't deposited.
In 2010, the victim moved into a nursing home, and while he was in there, Kawalec asked for $130,000 to buy out her husband's portion of their home because the couple were getting divorced.
The man gave Kawalec the money, but he would live with her at the village of Bloomfield home for the remainder of his days. The man told police he was in poor health.
In August 2011, the victim overheard Kawalec arguing with her mother and tried to intervene. Then Kawalec told the victim and her mother that they both had to move out of their home.
Police met with the victim who identified multiple checks that had been written from his account and signed by Kawalec that did not benefit him or were authorized by him.