Saturday, December 5, 2009


A Greencastle woman accused of stealing over $350,000 from the church where she worked as a financial and administrative secretary was given the maximum executed sentence allowed by Indiana statute November 21, 2009.

Melynda J. "Mindy" Fenwick, 37, was convicted of six counts of Class C felony forgery and six counts of Class D felony theft. At her sentencing hearing Monday, Putnam County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley ordered Fenwick to serve 10 years at the Indiana Department of Correction followed by five years on probation.
Fenwick was arrested Aug. 11 after discrepancies surfaced during an audit of the books at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle. She was initially charged with six counts of Class C felony forgery and five counts of Class D felony theft. A sixth Class D felony theft count was filed on Oct. 9.
At an initial hearing on Aug. 13, Fenwick pled not guilty to all charges. She changed her plea on Oct. 29, pleading guilty to all counts.

Under Indiana statute, the maximum sentence for non-violent crimes alleged under the same case number is the advisory sentence for the next highest felony charge -- in this case a Class B felony, for which the maximum sentence is 20 years and the advisory sentence is 10 years.
Fenwick wrote 192 checks to herself -- totaling $335,000 -- from Gobin's accounts. In addition, she made about $21,000 in unauthorized charges on the church's credit cards.
Fenwick confessed to forging signatures on the checks and to doctoring bank receipts to cover it up.
Court records indicated that Fenwick began stealing from Gobin shortly after she was hired in late 2004.
"Mrs. Fenwick, your actions have caused so much grief for so many people," Headley said. "But anyone who goes to church knows that forgiveness is a cornerstone theme of the church. Hopefully you'll be able to be forgiven someday ... but right now, you must be punished."
Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter recommended Fenwick be given the maximum sentence allowable.
"If not today, when?" he asked. "If not here, where? If not Mindy Fenwick, who?"
Fenwick's attorney James Ensley asked for leniency for his client, pointing out that she had no prior criminal history and had pled guilty to all counts without the benefit of any plea agreements.
"She fell on the sword in this case," Ensley said.
With Indiana good time credit, which allows one day's credit for every day an inmate serves without incident, Fenwick will likely be released from prison in five years. Her sentence could be further decreased if she holds a job in prison or earns educational credits.
Although she has never been prosecuted, Fenwick admitted she had been fired from the two jobs she held before Gobin -- one at a bank and one at a factory -- for stealing.
"I guess the third time you figured you'd get slapped on the wrist again?" Bookwalter said.
"No sir," a tearful Fenwick said. "I didn't know what I thought."
Fenwick said she couldn't say for sure where the money had gone.
"It went different places," she said. "I don't buy extravagant things."
Bookwalter produced records that indicated Fenwick had spent the stolen money on a Wii videogame console, beer, a riding lawnmower, groceries and a desktop computer.
"So, the church was paying for your living costs?" Bookwalter asked.
Fenwick said she often used the money to help other people and to take them out to eat.
"So while the church is dying, you're treating people to dinner?" Bookwalter asked.
"Yes," Fenwick said.
One of the state's witnesses was Vera Farber -- a longtime Putnam County resident and DePauw School of Music graduate who has been involved with Gobin since its beginning in the 1920s.
Farber had donated $60,000 to a fund Gobin had set up to repair its pipe organ -- a fund that was depleted as a result of Fenwick's thefts.
"At first I was so sorry for (Fenwick)," Farber said. "Then I became angry. I worked and saved a long time to have that much money to give."
On the stand at Monday's hearing, Gobin Pastor P.T. Wilson said the news of Fenwick's crimes "sent a shockwave of uncertainty through the church."
Wilson described his relationship with Fenwick as "very warm, very friendly."
Bookwalter asked Wilson what his first thoughts were after Fenwick's thefts were exposed.
"At first, disbelief," Wilson said. "Then a strong sense of betrayal that month after month after month after month she came to these meetings and gave these reports, and everything was fabricated."
Wilson said he had done ministry in women's prisons in the past, and had worked with women who embezzled. In hindsight, he said, he could see some of the same traits in Fenwick he had seen in those women.
"I felt very foolish," he said.
Greencastle Police Department Detective Capt. Randy Seipel said Fenwick's case represented the largest embezzlement loss he had ever dealt with in his 22 years in law enforcement.
"To keep this up for four years; to keep the numbers flowing; to keep the confidence in her from the church built up ... that made what she did quite sophisticated, in my opinion," he said.
Jeff Hansen, a lay leader and 15-year member of Gobin, said Fenwick's crimes had been very hard for him and other members of the congregation to deal with.
"She wasn't a member of our congregation, but we viewed her as part of our church family," he said. "She was one of us."
David Bray, a certified public account who has been a member of Gobin for 35 years and has acted as its treasurer for about 25 years, described the church's financial position as "obviously devastated."
"We've managed to get by," he said. "But we had projects and programs planned that now won't happen."
Bray said the church literally had no money.
"What will you do this winter if the boiler goes out?" Bookwalter asked.
"Wear coats," Bray replied.
"What if the roof goes bad?" Bookwalter asked.
"We'll have to bring umbrellas," Bray said.
Putnam County Adult Probation Officer Rebecca Brush prepared Fenwick's pre-sentence investigation report.
"The thing that struck me as odd was that (Fenwick) never expressed any remorse," Brush said. "She never said she was sorry or expressed any empathy for her victims."
Ensley countered that Brush never asked Fenwick any direct questions about whether or not she was sorry about her thefts.
Fenwick said she did have remorse.
"I felt bad about it all the time," she said. "I just felt like I couldn't get out of it."
Bookwalter asked Fenwick if she felt bad about her thefts or about the fact that she had been caught.
"I feel bad period," she said.
Chris Hanneman, 20, has lived with Fenwick on and off since his early teens.
"She's a very nice lady," he said in court Monday. "She's a devoted mother. I look up to her ... I never would have thought she would do something like this."
Phyllis Neumann, a family friend who has known Fenwick "since Mindy was born," said Fenwick was the sole caregiver for her family and that "her children are her life." Neumann said Fenwick being sentence to prison time would cause great hardship for her family.
"I can't imagine three teenagers and two young children being left without a mother," she said.
Fenwick's younger sister, Tonya VanDiver, said the time since her sister's arrest had been "very stressful and difficult."
Bookwalter asked VanDiver if she knew where the money Fenwick has stolen had gone.
"She's never told me why she did this," VanDiver said. "She just said she's sorry."
Fenwick also said she was worried that her family would suffer if she went to prison -- but Bookwalter took issue with that notion.
He pointed out that Fenwick made $24,000 per year in her position as church secretary, and that she and her husband together were taking in about $3,800 per month. He estimated that Fenwick had stolen about $80,000 per year, and he surmised that she spent a large amount of that money on her family.

"The very people you're using as your hardship here today benefited from this money," Bookwalter said.
Headley said Fenwick's case should "send a message" to other businesses, not-for-profits and churches that they need to be diligent about conducting independent audits of their books.
"Your most trusted employee is the one you need to watch," he said.
Headley gave Fenwick until Friday to report and start serving her sentence.


No comments:

Post a Comment