Bertelsen Pleads Guilty

Kathleen Conway/Correspondent

At the trial of Mercer County Treasurer, Michael R. Bertelsen, who was charged with multiple felony counts, Bertelsen waived his right to a jury trial and accepted a partial plea agreement.

Special Prosecutor Michael Vujovich and Bertelsen's defense attorney, Jack Schwartz, presented the partial plea agreement in a trial that lasted less than thirty minutes. The plea agreement terms stated that Bertelsen would plead guilty to two felony charges with the dismissal of the remaining counts in Case #13CF75. Additionally Case #12CF80, which charged Bertelsen with theft of $800 from the Mercer County Republican Central Committee was dismissed. The plea agreement required Bertelsen's immediate resignation as Mercer County Treasurer and a restitution payment of $13,800.

Due to Bertelsen's request for a change of venue from Mercer County, Judge Frank R. Fuhr presided over the case in a Rock Island courtroom on July 28, 2014. Judge Fuhr accepted the plea agreement as presented. Special Prosecutor Vujovich asked Judge Fuhr to consider requiring Bertelsen to pay a fine of $10,000 plus court costs and additional penalties, as the judge deemed appropriate, at the time of sentencing.

Bertelsen pled guilty to Count One, which was a Class 2 felony Theft, and guilty to Count Four, a Class 3 felony of Official Misconduct in his elected position as Mercer County Treasurer. Offering to Judge Fuhr a printed copy of his resignation, Bertelsen stated that he submitted his resignation by email to Mercer County Clerk and Recorder, Phyllis A. Bewley, on Fri., July 25, 2014, and that he received an email confirmation of receipt from Ms. Bewley. He said that he mailed a formal resignation letter to Ms. Bewley by Certified Mail and showed the receipt to Judge Fuhr.

As part of the plea agreement, Case #12CF80 was dropped. This case charged Bertelsen with the theft of $800 from the Mercer County Republican Central Committee when he was the Committee Treasurer. The funds were discovered missing from the bank account of the Mercer County Republican Central Committee because of the due diligence of the committee. The discovery of the missing funds, that were entrusted to Bertelsen as Treasurer, eventually led to the county conducting a similar investigation of its own accounts with an audit.

The Mercer County Board is designated to receive $13,000 for the monies taken from the E911 Fund. The Mercer County Republican Central Committee is to receive the balance of $800.

The Mercer County Board hired McGladrey to perform a forensic audit of the E911 Fund, which focused on transactions from Dec. 26, 2001 through July 31, 2012. The audit identified $13,000 funds that were misappropriated by Bertelsen as follows: $5,000 on Feb. 10, 2004; $4,000 on Dec. 14, 2004; and $4,000 on July 9, 2009. Based on the limited scope of the contract issued by the Mercer County Board, McGladrey did not audit other funds to which Bertelsen had access as Treasurer. Bertelsen has been the Mercer County Treasurer since 1994.

As restitution, Bertelsen submitted a $13,800 check to Judge Fuhr. Mercer County Circuit Clerk, Jeff Benson, received the check and will distribute the funds according to the terms of the plea agreement.

Speaking exclusively to this reporter at the conclusion of the July 28, 2014, trial proceedings, Bertelsen said, “I wanted to express my gratitude and moving forward – I apologize for my actions. If I did harm to anybody, I didn't mean to do that. It was not my intent, but I'm looking forward to moving on and to continue some of the things I want to do in life, so this is just part of that process.” Jack Schwartz, Bertelsen's attorney, stated that Bertelsen has no prior criminal record, paid restitution, and pled guilty.

Schwartz said that he will be asking at the sentencing hearing for what used to be called Deferred Status and is now called First Offender. The plea of guilty would be entered, but the defendant would not be found guilty because he has paid restitution and has no prior criminal record. Schwartz said of Bertelsen, “He has been an elected, trustworthy Treasurer of Mercer County for almost twenty years.”

Special Prosecutor Vujovich shared his perspective. “In recent years the public has become so cynical about public officials and theft of public funds. That cynicism needs to be addressed. I think he's earned a term of incarceration, but that will be the judge's call,” he said. One specific penalty for the Class 3 felony of Official Misconduct is that Bertelsen “cannot hold public office again,” according to Vujovich.

Bertelsen's sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. at the Mercer County Courthouse, Aledo.