Saturday, January 18, 2014

Former Church bookkeeper accused of embezzlement in Wisconsin

Accused of embezzling more than $70,000 from the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Webster and the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in A&H, Michelle M. Blake, 34, Webster, is free on a $10,000 signature bond following her bail hearing last Thursday.
The tale began when Father Michael Tupa, parish priest, and Lawrence French, the church's internal auditor, found some inconsistencies in the QuickBooks accounting program, the program Blake used when she worked as secretary/bookkeeper for the churches from Oct. 2010 to Sept. 2013.
Tupa and French took their concerns to the Webster Police Department. From further investigation, it appeared the defendant was falsifying the church's computerized financial records to cover up her thefts.
According to the probable cause statement attached to the warrant for Blake's arrest, during the time of her employment she had written 47 checks to herself from the St. John the Baptist's checking account totaling $42,959.61 and 30 checks from the Sacred Heart's checking account totaling $34,904.22.
To cover the fact she was allegedly writing checks to herself, Blake falsified records when she entered the activity into Quickbooks, listing a different vendor name under the same check number as she had written to herself.
Further investigation showed the checks in question were written and cashed by the defendant at various banks in the area.
A search warrant executed at the defendant's residence located an envelope which contained several un-cashed checks from  parishioners written to Webster Area Catholic Churches.
Blake, according to the probable cause statement, had acquired a stamp with Father Tupa's signature. Tupa told police he never authorized such a stamp.
The two counts of theft from a business setting in excess of $10,000 are Class G felonies and each carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison, up to a $25,000 fine or both.
An initial appearance for Blake has been set for 2 p.m. on Wednesday, January 22 in Burnett County Circuit Court.

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