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March 21, 2012 | 09:16 AMELKHORN — Judge James Carlson ruled March 16 that there is enough evidence to continue a felony case against a Star Center first-grade teacher who allegedly stole more than $50,000 from an elderly man.
Johnalee A. Kawalec, 43, W1544 Lake Geneva Highway, Bloomfield, has been charged with theft from a business setting in an amount that is greater than $10,000.
If convicted, she faces up to 10 years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines.
The Walworth County District Attorney's Office filed the felony charges Feb. 14, and are accusing the educator of inappropriately using money intended for Henry Kawalec, the uncle of her ex-husband.
During a preliminary hearing, a judge must determine whether there is probable cause in the case. He also must rule in the light most favorable to prosecutors.
The police investigation began when Henry Kawalec went to the Lake Geneva Police Department on Dec. 1 to report discrepancies in his bank account.
He told police that Johnalee, who was appointed his power of attorney, was supposed to deposit his Social Security, pension and rental income checks.
However, he said very few of these checks were deposited, according to the criminal complaint.
During the hearing, Lake Geneva Police Det. Ed Gritzner testified that he, Henry and a friend of Henry's reviewed bank statements.
Gritzner said he identified $50,746 worth of checks that were cashed, but not used to benefit Henry.
"Detective Gritzner is not in the position to say whether the checks were for Mr. Kawalec," argued, Johnalee's attorney Vincent Bauer.
During the hearing, Bauer argued the money Johnalee spent was for mutual household expenses between her and the victim. Henry, Johnalee and Johnalee's mother lived together for a period of time, according to court documents.
Assistant District Attorney Haley Rea highlighted two checks, which were made payable to Johnalee's children. Rea said there are other checks, but for the purpose of the preliminary hearing she only reviewed two of them.
Henry testified during the hearing and said Johnalee was authorized to write "checks just for me."
Henry, who according to court documents is in poor health, testified he never gave Johnalee permission to write checks from his account to her children.
Bauer asked Henry how long he had known Johnalee and he responded that he knew her for about 10 years.
"She was the daughter I never had," he said.
According to the criminal complaint, Henry told police in the winter of 2010 he moved into a nursing home.
While at the nursing home, Johnalee and Henry reached a verbal agreement where Henry would give her $130,000 to purchase the home she had with her ex-husband. In return, Henry would live with Johnalee until Henry died.
In August 2011, Henry overheard Johnalee arguing with her mother and intervened. At that time, Johnalee told her mother and Henry that they had to move out of the house.
Johnalee is next scheduled to appear in court March 28 for an arraignment. During an arraignment a defendant enters a plea on the charges that have been filed.