Thursday, January 15, 2015

Church volunteer avoids jail by repaying pilfered funds in Scrip

 A volunteer for Holy Family Catholic Church in Caledonia avoided jail on an embezzlement charge after paying back more than $18,000 pilfered from the church over a three-year period.

Deborah Slocum Wright, 47, appeared in Kent County Circuit Court Tuesday to be sentenced for felony embezzlement. Originally charged with embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000, the charge was amended to attempted embezzlement based on her cooperation with investigators.

She could have faced up to five years in prison on the original charge. Instead, Wright left Judge Donald Johnston's courtroom a free woman after providing the court with a $18,430 check to cover the missing funds. She's still on the hook for $798 in fines and court costs.

Thefts began in July, 2010 and continued through Nov. 2013 at Holy Family, 9669 Kraft Ave. SE, court records show.

The Kent County Sheriff's Department launched an investigation last March after the Rev. Mark Bauer and the parish CPA reported sales and profits from its Great Lakes Script program were lower than in past years, according to court documents.

The missing funds were traced back to 2010 when Wright began volunteering with the parish scrip program. Used by non-profit organizations, participants buy goods at participating retailers using scrip, with rebates going to the participating non-profits. Organizations have raised more than $500 million over the last 20 years through the program, according to the Great Lakes Scrip website.

Wright handled all of the church's scrip cards, court documents show. Holy Family reported a cash loss of $10,875 and scrip card losses of $7,555, court documents show

Sheriff's deputies obtained a warrant to search Wright's home on Sienna Drive SE in Gaines Township as part of the investigation.

Two weeks after the investigation was launched, Bauer sent letters to 896 parish families explaining a volunteer had been let go due to the misappropriation of church funds. The letter did not provide details of the investigation.

Wright, who was charged in September, was released after posting a $1,000 bond.

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