Saturday, September 28, 2013

Woman convicted on all counts for stealing $55,000 from small Mobile, Alabama church

 Beneath all the receipts, bank statements and other paperwork, it was very simple: Evelyn Mace “duped” the members of First Independent Methodist Church to the tune of about $55,000, and a jury of her peers convicted her of it.

Such was the opinion of Assistant District Attorney Martha Tierney after a jury convicted Mace, 61, on five counts related to funds she stole from the Halls Mill Road church between 2009 and 2011. The verdict came down Friday in Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Robert Smith’s courtroom.

Mace was convicted of two different counts of theft – first-degree theft and first-degree theft by deception – as well as three counts of felony tax evasion. In other words, not only did she steal, both outright and through “larceny by trick,” she also neglected to claim her “ill-gotten gains” on her taxes, Tierney said. And she did it to a church family who, at times, remembered her fondly.

“It’s unfortunate when something like this happens,” Tierney said. “It was a betrayal of her church, it was a betrayal of her friends, it was a betrayal of the trust.”

Mace, a Realtor associated with Prudential Cooper & Co. Inc., was hired at First Independent as a bookkeeper, and during the three years included in the indictment, used the $55,000 she stole in numerous ways, including for her personal utility bills and to feed a gambling problem that found her at Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos, according to testimony.

“Her trick was to get (church leaders) to sign checks in blank, clipped to an invoice, payable to herself or to petty cash,” Tierney said. “The elders were so trusting.

“Internal control is not the first thing in the minds of church people for whom love and trust are most predominant.”

Sharee Kinard, who took over the books on a volunteer basis after Mace was fired by the church, wept on the witness stand during the trial, describing her family and Mace’s as friends who spent time together on Wednesday nights at the small church, which had a total congregation of only a couple hundred people. Around 40 people could be expected at the church for any given service, according to testimony.

“She was very special,” Kinard said. “I loved her like a sister in Christ for sure.”

For Tierney, the challenge in white-collar cases is always in finding a way to present expansive financial records to the jurors in a way that’s simple and direct. And to that end she had high praise for Agent Randy Day, with the State Revenue Department.

“He is one of the best forensic accountants I have ever worked with,” Tierney said. “He happily, eagerly and dedicatedly followed thousands of records to organize and categorize the five different schemes (Mace) used to take money.”

The two counts of theft carry sentences of five years in prison each, with each count of tax evasion carrying the possibility of two-to-twenty years, according to Tierney. A restitution hearing will be held within 30 days to determine how much Mace will be required to pay back to the church, Tierney said.

At some point during the schemes, Mace put some of her own money back into the church’s accounts, she said, and the restitution amount will likely affect the final amount. It could be less than the $55,000 stolen, Tierney said.

After the jury rendered its verdict, defense attorney Joe Dennis filed an oral notice of appeal. An appeal date has not been set, and citing such Dennis said he could not comment specifically on the details of the case. He wasn’t sure whether or not he would be representing Mace on appeal.

Dennis did, however, share a compliment for his opponent across the courtroom aisle.

“We’ve got the finest DA’s office and the finest law enforcement and they put on a great case,” he said.

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