Southwest Michigan county grounds employee charged with embezzling $20,000

FILE - Generic gavel on wooden table.

An employee in charge of maintaining Berrien County grounds and buildings was charged with embezzlement and faced up to five years in prison, authorities announced.

Berrien County Building and Grounds Superintendent Joel Todd Johnson, 59, allegedly used county funds to buy materials and tools for personal home construction and improvement jobs, according to county Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli.

Johnson was arraigned Friday. County officials said he was placed on unpaid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

The embezzlement allegedly happened from February through August of this year. The total cost alleged to have been purchased ranged up to $20,000.

"As county employees, we are accountable to our residents and businesses and must be good stewards of the tax dollars entrusted to us," Berrien County Administrator Brian Dissette said in a statement, according to WSJM in St. Joseph. "We expect all members of our team to operate at the highest ethical levels at all times. We are cooperating fully with legal authorities and will seek full restitution of any funds that may have been misappropriated."

A message left Sunday for Johnson wasn't immediately returned.