Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Former Church Finance Manager Given Prison Term For Embezzling $141,016 in Oklahoma

A former finance manager for the First United Methodist Church of Stillwater -- who admitted embezzling $141,016 from the church -- has been given a two-year prison term followed by three years of probation when she must make restitution payments.

Dana Sue Eckhart, 44, who moved to Edmond after the felony embezzlement charge was filed last year, did not have an agreement with the prosecution regarding her punishment.

Last week, Associate District Judge Stephen Kistler ordered Eckhart -- who had already placed $23,370 in proceeds from the sale of her Stillwater home with the court toward restitution -- to begin making payments within 30 days of her release from prison.

Eckhart must pay $55,172 restitution, with 12 percent interest pursuant to state law, by the end of her probationary period along with a $1,000 fine, the judge ordered at a July 31 sentencing hearing, which began on July 8, recessed and was concluded last week.

Reverend Michael Chaffin, Reverend John Curtis and Reverend Alan McIntyre had reported the embezzlement from the church by Eckhart, who was finance manager from Dec. 30, 2008, to Jan. 2, 2013, according to an affidavit by Stillwater Police Detective Richard Leport.

"Reverend McIntyre provided an audit report detailing that Dana Eckhart wrote 33 checks to herself or her husband, 17 checks to other people and 46 checks to Capital One," with which the church does not have an account, the affidavit said.

"Reverend McIntyre also noted 216 questioned credit card transactions," on a credit card issued to Eckhart by the church, the affidavit said.

"The loss was determined to be $141,016.99," the affidavit said.

On April 11, 2013, the detective received a copy of the "Accounting Controls Review and Accounting Records Investigation" report for the church prepared by a certified public accountant, the affidavit said.

The report reviewed the church's checks from January 2009 through December 2012, the affidavit said.

There were $60,432.29 unauthorized checks payable to the finance manager, $9,009.50 unauthorized checks payable to the spouse of the finance manager, and $67,547.46 unauthorized checks to the Capital One personal account of the finance manager, the affidavit said.

During the sentencing hearing that began on July 8, Eckhart testified how her embezzlement began, which continued over a three-year period and only ended when she was caught, she admitted on cross-examination to prosecutor Mike Kulling.

"I initially was trying to help others with food, shelter. It was unauthorized. I did use the funds.

"We started having financial difficulty. I did use funds for myself.

"I know I made a really big mistake," Eckhart told the judge -- asking for probation and an order to make restitution.

"We sold our house here in Stillwater. The proceeds of the home were placed with the court for restitution in this matter," Eckhart said -- adding that a house in Tonkawa would be sold to "free up more money for restitution."

Eckhart's defense attorney asked the judge to give her ten years to pay restitution, which the judge said he didn't think was a reasonable period of time -- before recessing the case to July 31 when he decided her sentence.

During the July 8 session of the sentencing hearing, Eckhart said that she was working as a summer day camp counselor for the Edmond YMCA and that her husband was supporting the family as an assistant manager at an Oklahoma City grocery store.

In a pre-sentencing investigation, Eckhart said, "During the last three years we lived in our home in Stillwater, our house payment almost doubled due to insurance and taxes.

"I started falling into the trap of 'I just need a little to make ends meet and I'll pay it back.' I did pay some of the monies back in cash, but have no way to prove it.

"I also was very influenced by what I saw around me. We lived in an area where it mattered a great deal as to what possessions you had. I started to feel like we had to keep up with that.

"I knew and know better that possessions don't matter. I now know that my slip in character has jeopardized my family and what really matters to me.

"I will never let this happen again as it isn't worth risking what is really important...I never had any intentions of hurting anyone and always had intentions of paying it back somehow.

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