Ex-finance director of Lake Michigan Car Ferry sent to prison in $1.7 million scheme

LUDINGTON, MI – The former finance director of the Lake Michigan Car Ferry was sentenced Friday, Sept. 4, to five years, three months in prison for stealing $1.7 million from the company.



a large ship in a body of water: The S.S. Badger car ferry leaves Ludington to take passengers to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in this MLive File Photo.


© Ken Stevens | ksteven2@mlive.com/Ken Stevens | MLive.com file/mlive.com/TNS
The S.S. Badger car ferry leaves Ludington to take passengers to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in this MLive File Photo.

Paul Patrick Piper, 58, of Ludington, stole the money over the course of 11 years. He pleaded guilty to bank fraud and tax evasion.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids said the money Piper embezzled was “a frightening number that caused substantial financial hardship” to owners of the company that operates the SS Badger ferry. The ferry runs between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

“His greed caused significant financial damage to one of the largest employers in the Ludington, Michigan, area,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said in a statement.

Piper took the money between 2007 and 2018. He would override account systems and write check to himself or two of his affiliated businesses. He would forge signatures of company owners or use a signature stamp without their authorization, the government said.

Piper had worked for Lake Michigan Car Ferry and Pere Marquette Shipping for 25 years. He also owned Piper Tax & Accounting and another business. He also served as a trustee for Pere Marquette Township.

“Mr. Piper was well-respected in the Ludington community …,” attorney Matthew Borgula wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

“Regrettably, Mr. Piper took advantage of the Car Ferry starting in around 2007 in an effort to maintain a lifestyle for him and his family and support struggling business ventures.”

His family tax business has lost customers, which hurt his adult children working there. The strain on his family “has been significant,” his attorney said.

“Mr. Piper takes full responsibility for his actions, and for the trust he betrayed.”

Piper cooperated with authorities. He also agreed to pay $380,00 in penalties, far more the cost of restitution, his attorney said.

The judge ordered Piper to pay $1,740,037.91 in restitution. He earlier forfeited a 2018 Ram Truck, a 2008 Glacier Bay recreational vehicle and cash.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Stella said that the Car Ferry had to borrow money for operating expenses while Piper was embezzling.

“The facts and circumstances of the offense are particularly egregious,” he said in court records.

“Stealing nearly two million dollars from a privately owned company over the course of almost 11 years is reprehensible. Doing so on hundreds of occasions and never stopping to reconsider your conduct is particularly egregious, especially when the embezzlement is occurring not out of necessity, but out of greed associated with remodeling a home, paying employees at your tax preparation business and starting a coffee shop on the backs of the hard-working employees of the Car Ferry.”

The Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division, the FBI and Mason County Sheriff’s Department investigated.

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