Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Violet woman arrested in church embezzlement works for St. Bernard finance department in Louisiana


She has no contact with contracts, money, checks... It's just paperwork." -- President Dave Peralta
A Violet woman accused of stealing more than $100,000 from the church where she worked is employed by the St. Bernard Parish government's finance department and will remain there. Parish President Dave Peralta confirmed the woman's status with the parish on Wednesday, but said Trinette Johnson is in a clerical position and does not work with cash or checks.

Johnson, 39, surrendered on April 19 to the parish jail after learning that a judge had signed a warrant for her arrest on a felony theft charge, according to the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office. She is accused of embezzling money from the church since 2006.

Peralta said Johnson manages project worksheets for the parish's FEMA projects and her salary is paid through FEMA funds.

"It's just processing invoices and stuff like that," Peralta said. "She has no contact with contracts, money, checks. It's just paperwork. It's an office position, a clerical position, that is all."

Peralta said that Johnson is one of five people who is a full-time parish employee assigned as a liaison with CDM Smith, which is contracted to manage recovery projects.

Peralta said the parish checked over Johnson's work after her arrest "and everything looked fine."

He said if she is convicted of the felony theft charge, "I would conduct an internal investigation in regards to the conviction and then determine whether to let her go.

"It's an accusation at this time," Peralta said. "Until there is a disposition in the courts, I am not taking any action. It is not part of government. If this were a part of government, it would be different."

The Sheriff's Office opened its investigation into the church embezzlement case after being asked to do so by church officials, the Sheriff's Office said last month.

Johnson was a longtime secretary and account executive for the Greater Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, 1904 Goodwill Drive in Violet, according to the Sheriff's Office. The church discovered that money was missing after a financial audit. The church's board of trustees reviewed the report from the auditing firm and alleged that Johnson had misappropriated $101,872 in church funds since Aug. 16, 2006, according to the Sheriff's Office.

In February, the Sheriff's Office was presented with a letter signed by 33 members of the church that said the church wanted to pursue criminal charges in the matter. The church also handed over bank records going back to March 2006 and information that a forensic specialist with a CPA firm had been retained to identify the suspected theft of church funds.

Johnson currently is out of jail on a $10,000 bond, the Sheriff's Office confirmed on Wednesday.

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