Monday, February 1, 2010

Pastor, wife accused of embezzling from church in Lawrence, New Hampshire

The pastor of a Presbyterian church in the city, his wife, and the church's secretary are charged with embezzling almost $137,000 from the congregation's bank account over the course of five years.

The Rev. Isaias Rivera, pastor of Tabernaculo de Adoracion y Musica (Tabernacle of Praise and Music) and his wife, Vivian, were arrested by Lawrence police yesterday. Church secretary Kizzella Rivera turned herself in to police.
The Presbytery of Northern New England, which owns and runs the church at 96 E. Haverhill St., did not give permission nor had any knowledge that the three had been cashing checks from 2004 to 2009, according to police.
According to the police report, Isaias Rivera allegedly took $102,732.28, his wife cashed three checks in 2005 totaling $24,500, and secretary Kizzella Rivera, (no relation) wrote checks for herself and cashed them for the total sum of $9,500.
According to the police report, The Rev. Eric Markman, moderator for the Presbytery, contacted Sovereign Bank after talking to Isaias Rivera.
Bank officials told Markman "there were a lot of checks written to Isaias Rivera on the Presbytery's account from 2004 until 2009," according to the police report.
The Presbytery hired Hession and Pare, a public accounting firm in Manchester, N.H., to look at the account.
After researching the church's bank transactions, John Hession found "Isaias was either writing checks to himself or would have his secretary (Kizzella Rivera) write the checks out to him. He would then later cash the checks and take the money," the police report said.
Markman and Darnell Burks, chairman of the Lawrence Church Committee for the Presbytery, were recently alerted to a potential problem by Ricky Rivera, Kizzella Rivera's husband.
"He got fresh with my wife a couple of times and now he is trying to bring her into this," said Ricky Rivera, who ran youth programs at the church.
Markman and Burks confronted Isaias Rivera about the allegations, and during their visit found the membership had dwindled to 17 people and programs that were offered were no longer in operation, Markman said in an interview with The Eagle-Tribune yesterday.
"Before this, we thought the church was going well," he said.
During the investigation, Markman and Burks could not find the church's bank records, according to a report filed by police Detective Jeffrey R. Sapienza.
When Markman and Burks tried to look on the church's computer, "everything had been deleted," the report said.
When Markman asked Isaias Rivera about it, he told Markman that "the files must have been stolen," Sapienza wrote in his report.
On Feb. 4, 2008, Isaias Rivera reported that someone broke into the church at 96 E. Haverhill St. and stole one Dell computer, two speakers and one DVD player.
"The items were either returned or never stolen," Markman told The Eagle-Tribune.
"It would be unimaginable not to be disappointed," Markman said. "Anytime money is not going to the ministry that should be is stressful."
Markman said the money came from the presbytery as well as the collection during services.
"I feel betrayed because I thought I was putting money in the collection for God's purpose," Ricky Rivera said.
"It's too bad that we have individuals like him that we hold to high standards and they let you down," Ricky Rivera said of Isaias Rivera.
Ricky Rivera said the situation got so bad at the church that members had to bundle up during services because there was no heat.
Markman and Burks alerted Lawrence police who arrested Isaias and Vivian Rivera both of 86 Hazel St. and Kizzella Rivera of 102 Union St. All three were released on bail and will be arraigned in Lawrence District Court today.
Tabernaculo de Adoracion y Musica was founded in August 2003 at the site of the former United Presbyterian Church.
The case at Tabernaculo de Adoracion y Musica is one example of the rise in embezzlement cases.
Locally, Marie Morey, a courthouse accounting clerk, has been charged with embezzling more than $2 million from the Lawrence Probation Department over three and a half years.
Church employee Dawn Appel faces charges of taking $38,482 from North Parish Church in North Andover and Joseph Lydick, North Andover's purchasing agent, has been charged with embezzling $20,800 of the town's money.
Alfred Perry former chairman of the North Andover School Committee stole $22,361 from clients of his insurance agency. He was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to repay the victims.
Theresa Roccapriore was charged with stealing $136,000 from Lawrence General Hospital.
Michelle Cote of Londonderry, N.H., is scheduled to be sentenced for stealing $200,000 from Lambs Construction Corp. bank accounts.
Cheryl Crawford of Derry, N.H., was sentenced to one year in prison, ordered to repay the victims and complete 100 hours of community service after taking more than $350,000 from the Derry Economic Development Corp.
Cases remain open on Morey of Lawrence, Roccapriore of Groveland, Appel of North Andover, and Lydick of Derry, N.H.
Police Chief John Romero said embezzling can become addictive to some. "They start with one and once they get away with it, they continue doing it until it mushrooms," Romero said.
"It's easier to detect because it's no longer a pen and pencil document," Romero said. "There is also more emphasis on checks and balances."
Checks cashed by The Rev. Isaias Rivera
Jan. 26, 2004, $3,447
Aug. 15, 2004, $2,700
Nov. 8, 2005, $3,272.28
April 6, 2006, $5,500
Feb. 10, 2006, $2,000
July 2, 2007, $800
March 3, 2006, $4,000
Nov. 13, 2006, $1,500
Dec. 18, 2006, $4,500
March 30, 2006, $8,500
May 8, 2006, $8,000
Aug. 7, 2006, $800
Jan. 30, 2007, $8,500
Feb. 8, 2007, $8,500
Jan. 11, 2007, $8,500
Jan. 30 2007, $8,500
March 7, 2007, $8,500
April 2, 2007, $3,600
April 12, 2007, $4,500
Dec. 17, 2007, $ 1,833
Dec. 28, 2007, $900
May 22, 2009, $1,980
May 22, 2009, $2,400
Checks cashed by KiZzella Rivera
Jan. 17, 2006, $3,500
April 5, 2006, $1,200
May 5, 2006, $1,200
May 31, 2006,$1,200
June 25, 2006, $1,200
July 30, 2006, $1,200
Checks cashed by VIVIAN Rivera
Nov. 22, 2005, $6,000
Dec. 6, 2005, 9,500
Dec. 15, 2005, $9,000

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