Sunday, January 31, 2016

Woman sentenced in church embezzlement case in Texas

A woman charged with taking thousands of dollars from the church her husband pastored was sentenced today.
Samantha Webb was sentenced to 45 days in the county jail and five years probation. A few members from the congregation were at the sentencing and tell us how the church has moved forward.
"When her and her husband left our bank account was minus," Compassion Church member James Abernathy said.
Abernathy says he is glad this case is finally over.
Webb is the now former ministers wife at Compassion Church, who in 2014 was caught stealing between $10,000 and $12,000 from the church.
"It put us in pretty bad shape because the church had no funds, we couldn't do anything at the church, any remodeling or upkeep or anything like that," Abernathy said. "It took us quite a while to get back on our feet."
Webb will now have to pay restitution equaling $10,000 to the church.
Abernathy says after Webb embezzled the money, the congregation of 25 dropped down to six people.
Today, they have nearly 40 members.
"We've just depended on each other, loving each other and just being strong with what we are supposed to do," Abernathy side.
"It is exciting to see how the Lord is building the church back to what it is," member Richard Eberhardt said.
He says he is glad the church can move forward.
"I'm not happy," Erberhardt said. "It is unfortunate that we are subject to making mistakes and we all have to answer for what we do both here and in Heaven."
Webb was also convicted for forging two checks in Choctaw County.
Her sentencing is set for next month.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Man accused of embezzling from football program arrested in Mississippi

A man accused of embezzling from a youth football program is now in jail.
Matthew Householder was arrested by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday and charged with embezzlement. Householder is accused of taking money from the Hamilton Youth Football program, where he served as president.
He had agreed to turn himself into authorities last week but failed to do so.
Householder is currently jailed at Monroe County Detention Center awaiting arraignment by a Monroe County Justice Court judge.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Former assistant fire chief accused of embezzlement in North Carolina

Investigators are trying to figure out if a former assistant fire chief in Lincolnton who is accused of embezzling funds from a fire charity did the same thing to his church.
Bill Fortenberry stepped down from his position as assistant fire chief after allegations surfaced that he took thousands of dollars from a local burned children's fund. Fortenberry served as treasurer of the fund since 1992.
"When this came out, he went to the church and came to the altar and asked for forgiveness," said Roy Pearson, a member of Pisgah United Methodist Church. "We all forgive, and if he asks the right way, God will forgive him."
However, Fortenberry may have to ask for forgiveness again. According to the State Bureau of Investigations, the District Attorney's office requested they investigate potential embezzlement of church funds by Fortenberry.
"I don't know where he could've gotten it from, unless it's something like Methodist Men or something. That would be the only way he could get any money," explained Pearson.
Fortenberry is a long-time member of Pisgah. He is also listed as the treasurer of the men's ministry according to the church's website.
The District Attorney's office would not say if there is evidence of any money taken from the church, but thousands have been reported missing from the local children's burn fund. The money raised by volunteer firefighters provides non-medical support for the young victims suffering from severe burns.
"You would never have thought that, never," said friend Tammy Ballenger. "I know him and his wife really well. They're really nice people."
NBC Charlotte tried to reach Fortenberry in his home, but no one answered the door. Calls to the church were not returned. The SBI says this is an ongoing investigation. When they complete their inquiry, they will turn over findings to the District Attorney's office, who will then determine if Fortenberry will face any criminal charges.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Allred being arraigned on embezzlement charge in Oklahoma

Jeffrey Scott Allred, the former pastor of the Journey Church in Sallisaw, will appear before Sequoyah County Associate District Judge Kyle Waters at 1:30 p.m. today (Wednesday, Nov. 18) for arraignment on felony charges of embezzlement and second-degree forgery.
Allred turned himself in to authorities Friday after Sequoyah County District Attorney Brian Kuester issued a warrant for his arrest. He was released the same day on a $7,500 bond.
The charges stem from an investigation conducted by Detective Lance Yoakum of the Sallisaw Police Department, covering a time period between June 2014 through December 2014, in which Allred is alleged to have fraudulently appropriated money in excess of $10,000.
The charges are separate from the civil case that has been filed by Journey Church in an attempt to recover funds the church claims Allred misappropriated  by using a credit card for his own personal gain.
A Journey Church secretary filed a report with the Sallisaw Police Department Aug. 26, accusing Allred of embezzlement after the church had an audit done, showing that Allred had allegedly used the church credit card for personal use on multiple occasions.
Yoakum said in his affidavit he was informed by Journey Church Elder Matt Caldwell the church had the forensic audit done by Beale and Barclay accounting firm.
“Caldwell advised that Allred had submitted multiple receipts that showed Allred had purchased items for the church but when compared to the credit card statements it didn’t match,” Yoakum said in the affidavit.
In the month of September 2014, Allred had submitted receipts from Lowe’s. The receipts Allred submitted showed  that he had purchased, on the church credit card, a black in color Whirlpool dishwasher for $598.99, a Nemco 4/3 counter top food warmer for $376.46, a Crosley four-burner electric oven for $1,099.99, and a Frigidaire microwave for $306.68 for a total of $2,382.12, Yoakum said in his report.
The affidavit said the actual receipt obtained from Lowe’s on this purchase by Allred showed a Whirlpool brand microwave for $279, a Bosch 800 series stainless steel dishwasher for $899.10 and a Whirlpool brand stove with a double oven and stainless steel for $989.10, which totaled $2,382.12, Yoakum said. The receipts Allred provided the church were fraudulent, according to Yoakum’s report.
Yoakum continued in the report that on June 20, 2014, Allred submitted a receipt to the church that showed he had purchased two JVC HDTV’s for $1,398 and one led 65-inch smart television for $899, totaling $2,297, plus shipping of $202.99, pushing the total up to $2,499.99. The actual receipt obtained from PayPal showed the actual purchase  was for a Samsung 65-inch smart TV for a total of $2,499.99. Yoakum said in the affidavit.
Also in June 2014, Yoakum said Allred submitted a receipt to the church showing he had purchased a glass top sitting table for $109.95. The actual receipt obtained from PayPal shows that Allred purchased a Yamaha drive G29 Fender Flare set of four for a golf car for $109.95. “Allred owns a golf cart that is reported to have multiple add-on accessories,” the affidavit said.
In that same month, Allred submitted a receipt to the church showing he had purchased a 6-foot pendant light for $94.99, plus $22.99 for shipping, for a total of $117.98. The actual receipt obtained from PayPal shows that Allred purchased a Yamaha drive cart carbon fiber steering wheel for $117.98, according to Yoakum’s affidavit.
Again, in the same month, “Allred submitted a receipt showing that he had purchased a microwave oven for $668.95. The actual receipt obtained from PayPal showed Allred purchased a Yamaha drive carbon fiber dash compartment, lighted tires and wheel combo for $668.95. Allred also submitted the same month a receipt showing he had purchased a leather armchair for $299.95. The actual receipt obtained from PayPal showed Allred had purchased a Yamaha golf cart flip folding seat for $299.95,” Yoakum said in the affidavit.
According to Yoakum’s investigation, Allred submitted a receipt to the church showing he had purchased a sink for $335. The actual receipt from PayPal show Allred had purchased a granite sink for $336.
“The church does not have a granite sink in it, nor has it had one,” the report said.
The same month, June, 2014, Allred submitted a receipt showing he had purchased a Keurig coffee maker for $149.95, with the actual receipt showing he had purchased a Yamaha LED light kit for a golf cart for $149.95. At that time Allred also submitted a receipt showing he purchased a stainless frame with tempered glass for $141.99, and the actual receipt from PayPal showed Allred purchased a dash assembly for a Yamaha golf cart for $141.95, Yoakum said in his report.
In December 2014, Yoakum said Allred submitted a receipt showing he had purchased Tyndale Bible software for $209.99. The actual receipt from PayPal shows Allred purchased a LEGO train level crossing set for $209.99. In the same month, Allred submitted a receipt showing he purchased Bible software archeology collection for $264.65 and the actual receipt, again from PayPal, shows Allred purchased a LEGO Maersk container train for $264.65, the affidavit said.
“Each receipt that Allred turned in to the church was fraudulent and did not depict what Allred had actually purchased. Allred used the Journey Church credit card for each of these purchases and then deceived the members and elders of the Journey Church with fraudulent receipts,” Yoakum said in the affidavit.
Yoakum continued: “The large kitchen items are reported to be inside Allred’s recently built pool house. The church does not have a golf cart or any items purchased for the golf cart. The church does not have the appliances purchased by Jeff Allred,” Yoakum’s report concluded.

Ex-church member to face trial on embezzlement charges in California

 A judge on Thursday ordered retired AC Transit CFO Lewis Clinton to trial on charges that he stole around $587,000 from charitable organizations he helmed on behalf of one of Oakland's most popular churches.

Clinton, 58, of Vallejo, was the unpaid president of three different nonprofit foundations at Allen Temple Baptist Church, a 5,000 member parish in East Oakland, when he purportedly embezzled from foundation accounts used to fund church programs providing housing assistance, re-entry services, child care and job training.

Investigators say the thefts began in 2007 and continued through 2013.

At the time of his arrest in April 2014, he had been AC Transit's chief financial officer for six years, collecting a $225,000 annual salary. He was on paid administrative leave from spring 2014 until his retirement in November 2014, according to the transit agency that serves Alameda and Contra Contra counties. He is not suspected of any financial misdoing at AC Transit, which conducts thrice-yearly audits.

Alameda County Judge Jo-Lynne Lee said Thursday at the end of a preliminary hearing that there is "sufficient evidence" to indicate that Clinton may be guilty of seven felony charges, including four counts of grand theft and one count each of money laundering, perjury and tax evasion. Lee dismissed a second count of tax evasion, citing insufficient evidence.

Clinton was a well-respected member of the finance world and the spiritual community before board members became suspicious that there might be financial impropriety when it was unable to make payroll and excessive ATM withdrawals and debit purchases were discovered, according to preliminary hearing testimony. He is accused of embezzling $527,000 in checks and cashiers checks from one foundation's credit union account, and another $60,000 to $70,000 in ATM withdrawals and debit card purchases from a Wells Fargo account. Judge Lee estimated that of the money taken from the Wells Fargo account, maybe 20 percent was used on legitimate expenses for the foundations.

Clinton used the stolen funds on a country club membership, private school tuition, luxury cars and vacations, according to testimony.

In a taped confrontation about the missing funds in March 2014, Clinton told Alameda County District Attorney's inspectors that managing the three nonprofits was a full-time job, so he started paying himself a salary. He also said that he had the authority to do what he could to keep the foundations alive while they were battling issues with the IRS. Church leaders denied that claim.

"I was in control, I was given the authority," Clinton says on the audio recording. "I wouldn't called it embezzlement. No, I wouldn't call it embezzlement at all."

Clinton remains free on $100,000 bail while he awaits a trial date. His public defender declined to comment on the case Thursday.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Former employee steals more than $100,000 from donated school funds in Manitowoc, Wisconsin

 Manitowoc Lutheran High School staff are making changes to their accounting system after learning money was missing from their accounts last year.
"We have started from the ground up and are doing all those things to regain trust with our donors, our parents and the 23 churches that own us," said director of mission advancement, Scott Reinhard.
Reinhard is installing new software and hiring trained professionals to handle book keeping after losing more than $100,000 to Wanda Larson, the school's former accountant.
"The employee was an office manager that would have had access," said Detective Sergeant, David Vorpahl with the Manitowoc Police Department.
According to the criminal complaint, "Airline tickets, car rentals and hotel reservations were made in Wanda's name."
The complaint also says Larson would buy things and "gave a lot of the stuff away and would also take people out to dinner."
When police asked her about the trips Larson said, "she took them for her grandchildren, so they would have some memories."
"Our approach to this has been to say we're going to trust our authorities," said Reinhard about the investigation.
When asked why she did this Larson told police, "They (the school) treated women so bad and they continue to put more work on her."
Larson is facing 4 felony charges of embezzlement since she stole money from 4 different school accounts.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Members of ‘The journey church of the Triad’ United states, filed a police report on Monday, stating that more than $40,000 had been embezzled from the church in May.

Members of ‘The journey church of the Triad’ United states, filed a police report on Monday, stating that more than $40,000 had been embezzled from the church in May. According to the incident report, $40,393.55 in cash was embezzled by the church pastor and his wife. High Point police confirm charges are pending against the church pastor, Keith Hall, and his wife, Leslie Hall. Keith Hall and Leslie Hall reported to the police station on Tuesday evening. Church leaders were not available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Indictment: St. Albert church worker embezzled $45K in Ohio

Stacy Bowling, 40, of Dayton, was indicted Wednesday in Montgomery County for grand theft for stealing money from her employer, a church.
Between July 2014 and October 2015, Bowling allegedly stole approximately $45,000 from St. Albert the Great Catholic Church in Kettering.
Bowling was employed by the church as the cafeteria manager and was in charge of that business account. She reportedly wrote checks and made debit card purchases from the church’s cafeteria account for her personal use.
If convicted, Bowling could face up to 18 months in prison.
“This defendant abused the trust the church gave her to support her lifestyle,” said Prosecutor Mat Heck in a release. “Stealing from a non‐profit hurts the victim not only financially, but it can create distrust in the members of the parish that their donations are being protected.”
Bowling is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 2.
UPDATE @ 12:43 p.m. (Nov. 10, 2015)
Chris Worland, the new pastor at St. Albert the Great Parish, informed parishioners earlier this month of an audit that revealed “irregularities” in the Cafeteria Consortium account, which pays for meals to 11 schools in the Dayton area.
The Cafeteria Consortium requires a bank account that’s separate from the parish operations because it includes state and federal grants, Worland wrote Nov. 1 in the church bulletin.
“It appears these irregularities occurred within the last 15 months,” Worland’s bulletin reads. “Because the Cafeteria Consortium operates within the purview of St. Albert the Great, I have a responsibility to be transparent about these findings. However, because there is an on-going investigation, I cannot provide more details at this time.”
UPDATE @ 11:50 a.m. (Nov. 10, 2015)
The case against a Kettering woman accused of stealing money from St. Albert the Great Catholic Parish will be presented to a grand jury, the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office announced today.
The allegations against 39-year-old Stacy Bowling are being investigated, but there are no formal charges filed at this point, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Kettering police announced Bowling’s arrest on Monday, alleging she stole $45,000 from a business account she was managing at St. Albert the Great Catholic Parish on Far Hills Avenue.
FIRST REPORT (Nov. 9, 2015)
A Kettering woman has been arrested on charges accusing her of stealing more than $45,000 from St. Albert the Great Catholic Parish.
Kettering police said Monday that Stacy Bowling, 39, was in charge of a business account at the church, 3033 Far Hills Ave., and wrote checks and made debit purchases for personal reasons.
We’re working to learn more about this case and will update this story as details are released.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Tustin woman admits to ripping off Catholic school for more than $400,000 in California

A Tustin woman admitted Wednesday to embezzling more than $400,000 in fund-raising money from a Catholic school.
Adela Maria Tapia, 40, pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts of money laundering with sentencing enhancements for aggravated white collar crime and property loss of more than $200,000, according to an Orange County District Attorney’s office statement.
Beginning in September 2006, Tapia worked at Holy Family Cathedral School coordinating the campuses “scrip card” program. Similar to gift cards, the scrip cards were sold to school families and parishioners to raise approximately $200,000 annually for the campuses operating funds.
Prosecutors contend that Tapia took cash payments for the scrip cards and put the money in a personal bank account. They also allege she took the scrips cards themselves and sold them to family members.
Authorities believe that Tapia spent the money on luxury clothing and goods, as well as private school tuition.
The embezzlement was discovered after a new employee took over for Tapia when she was moved into an office manager position. Upon opening a safe where the scrip cards were supposed to be held, the school principal found $120,000 worth of the cards missing.
Despite the objections of prosecutors, Tapia will avoid state prison if she completes one year in jail and five years of formal probation. She is also required to pay more than $438,000 worth of restitution.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Lewis County Booster Treasurer Appears in Court for Embezzling Over $9,000

A Lewis County man has pleaded guilty to embezzling money from Lewis County High School athletic boosters.
Christopher Burkhammer waived his plea hearing and admitted to an information charging him with embezzlement and forgery.
Prosecutors said Burkhammer stole over $9,000 from the Lewis County High School Track Team Boosters while he was serving as the treasurer. 
Burkhammer will be sentenced on April 5.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Transportation head makes embezzlement plea in Michigan

The former transportation and grounds director for Northview Public Schools is facing up to five years in prison after pleading guilty Monday to embezzlement.
Stevie Mullins appeared in Kent County Circuit Court where he admitted to embezzling from the school district for more than four-and-a half years before his arrest in October.
In exchange for his plea, a second embezzlement count was dismissed.
The school district says it lost more than $30,000; the criminal charges are for taking tools and an air conditioner.
Mullins will be back in court for sentencing next month.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ex-Salvation Army official pleads guilty to embezzlement

A former Salvation Army finance manager has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $272,000 from the nonprofit.
The office of U.S. Attorney John A. Horn said in a news release Wednesday that 47-year-old Gary Hilliard of Mableton pleaded guilty in an Atlanta federal court to committing embezzlement while he worked for the Salvation Army in metro Atlanta from 2008 to 2012.

Investigators say Hilliard created false invoices and then deposited the fraudulently obtained checks.
Hilliard is scheduled to be sentenced on March 31 before U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May.
According to its website, the Salvation Army serves more than 30 million Americans each year through various programs. Each Christmas season, it raises millions for needy families, seniors and the homeless through its red kettle program.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Marksville baseball coach no longer employed after embezzlement charge in Louisiana

A former Marksville high baseball coach has been sentenced for embezzling thousands of dollars from a group he use to work for.

33-year-old Timothy Daigle pleaded guilty in September to a federal fraud charge. He was accused of stealing nearly $100,000 from a nonprofit that helped low-income families repair their homes.

Daigle has been sentenced to 90 days in jail, but the judge allowed him to finish out the current school year as the baseball coach.

However, after speaking with Avoyelles Parish superintendent Blaine Dauzat Thursday morning, we learned that Daigle is no longer an employee of the school district. The move was made Monday. Dauzat says the school district was unaware of the pending charges on Daigle when he was hired in August. A full background check was done on him at the time of his hiring, but came back clean.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Janesville School District mum on embezzlement impact


The Janesville School District refuses to discuss how it has changed its money-handling procedures in response to the embezzlement of more than $300,000 from Craig High School over 10 years.
Superintendent Karen Schulte said Friday that she would not speak "at all" about how employees handle money, how procedures were changed to prevent future losses, how much money was transferred to student organizations to compensate for their losses, who authorized the transfers and what accounts were involved, among other things.
Janesville police believe that Jessica Warner-Reed, who was arrested Tuesday, stole more than $300,000 while she was the “banker” for Craig from 2006 to 2015.
Warner-Reed started as a clerical worker in December 2004 and became “the banker” in 2006.
The missing money came from student clubs, sports teams and other organizations whose money Warner-Reed collected and deposited.
Warner-Reed is scheduled to be in court Jan. 25.
When asked why she would not respond to general questions about district money-handling procedures, Schulte said it's "because so many things are related to the case."
"I think it's really important to follow what the district attorney has asked of us," Schulte said. "I don't think that that's much to ask. We want justice to prevail, so we certainly comply with all of our partners, just like we complied with the police investigation. Remember how everybody was hounding us about 'What's going on? There's rumors at Craig High School'?
"The police have it," she said. "Let them do their investigation. And I think they have the ability to do a better, cleaner investigation if we keep our fingers out of it. They're the experts, not me."
Schulte said Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary told her specifically to be cautious about how she talks about the case.
"If there are particular questions that come up or areas of comment, (O'Leary advised) that discussions either go to him or our own attorneys," Schulte said. "We've had many discussions with them lately because we want to comply with the law."
The Gazette contacted O'Leary via email Wednesday, asking how long the request that Schulte not comment would continue. O'Leary responded by citing these statutes:
—Supreme Court Rule 20:3.6: Trial Publicity states that a lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extra judicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.
—Supreme Court Rule 20:3.8(f)(2): Special responsibilities of a prosecutor states that a prosecutor in a criminal case or a proceeding that could result in deprivation of liberty shall exercise reasonable care to prevent investigators, law enforcement personnel, employees or other persons assisting or associated with the prosecutor in a criminal case from making an extra judicial statement that the prosecutor would be prohibited from making under SCR 20:3.6.
"These ethical obligations continue while the criminal matter is under investigation and/or pending before the court," O'Leary said in the email.
The Gazette reporter responded by saying he was not asking about the case, but rather how long Schulte will be under a gag order.
O'Leary responded Thursday, saying:
"Of course you are asking about the case. Your how the thefts affected the victims of the crime. There is no gag order, only the prosecutor's ethical obligations to prevent bias to a potential jury as set forth below."
The Gazette reporter responded Thursday, asking what specifically O'Leary told Schulte not to say. As of Friday afternoon, The Gazette had not received a response.
Janesville police Detective Chris Buescher said Friday that the police department would have no new information until Warner-Reed makes an initial court appearance or a criminal complaint is issued.
"Eventually, all of it will get out," Buescher said. "Right now, with the court proceedings, we're really limited in what we can say."
The school district made its student activity accounts whole last summer by transferring money to them, according to a news release issued Wednesday by the district. It is unclear how that affected district operations.
Board member Bill Sodemann said the school board never voted on replenishing any accounts. It was done internally, he said.
"We never took a vote at all," Sodemann said. "Obviously, that would be an open session item and on the agenda."
Sodemann said he is unsure of the amount the district spent to refill the accounts. He said he didn't learn of the amount missing until recently.
"I'm guessing they're not going to tell us the entire amount," Sodemann said. "They don't want to be specific so they can catch as much as they can catch."
"The money raised by clubs had to be replenished, so the district has to cover that," he said. "I wouldn't expect a vote on that. Replenish it, then go after her, and maybe money comes back from insurance."
Sodemann said he is unaware of what new procedures, if any, the district is using to manage funds besides tweaks to the handbook.
"I'm not sure which points are new compared to which parts are being emphasized from before," Sodemann said.
"But I'm going to have more questions," he said. "I don't want to impede on the investigation, but I want to dig in when we can to find out what happened, what could have been avoided and how to avoid this in the future."
The Gazette filed an open records request Thursday, asking the school district for internal audits of Craig's finances, emails between district administrators about the embezzlement and memos to staff advising them not to speak publicly about the issue.
The request was denied Friday morning. School district attorney Julie Lewis said in a written response that "the requested records are related to a pending criminal investigation and are exempt" under state statutes.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Former town clerk accused of embezzling funds from town and church in South Carolina

 Following a SLED investigation, a Saluda County woman is facing charges of embezzlement of public funds.
Ellen Pamela Long, 63, has been arrested and charged with embezzlement of public funds of $10,000 or more, forgery of $10,000 or more and breach of trust with fraudulent intent.
According to an affidavit, Long, while working as the Town Clerk for the Town of Ward, is alleged to have embezzled funds from the Town between January 1 of 2003 and August 1 of 2014.
Long is alleged to have used town funds during that time frame to make credit card payments and endorse checks to her husband for herself to cash.
Long is also accused of taking funds from Ward Baptist Church, where she worked as the church's treasurer.
She was in charge of the congregation's bank accounts and used that money for her own personal use.
In both instances of fraudulent activity, Ward provided a written confession to the fraudulent activity she has been charged with as both the Town Clerk and Church Treasurer.
Ward is being held at the Saluda County Detention Center.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Ex-school secretary pleads guilty to embezzlement

 A former Independence High School secretary has pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge for embezzlement.
Danielle Pearson entered the guilty plea in Bingham County District Court on Tuesday, according to court records. She was initially facing five forgery counts as well, but those were dismissed in October as part of a plea agreement, officials with the Bingham County Prosecutor’s Office said at that time.
Pearson was charged with the crimes for reportedly taking $11,000 from the Blackfoot school between June 2014 and May 2015.
Her sentencing has been set for March 7.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Saginaw church the focus of embezzlement investigation

One of Saginaw's oldest churches is the focus of an embezzlement investigation. Parishioners have been informed that someone stole  from a church fund. So far, there have been no arrests, but we've been told the church may have lost up to a quarter of a million dollars.
The investigation officially started just before Thanksgiving, but it's still not clear if or when criminal charges will be issued.
St. John's Lutheran Church, on Federal Avenue, sits just across the street from Saginaw's main fire station. It's been a fixture in the city for more than a century and a half, after being founded by German immigrants in 1852.
In November, parishioners were shocked to find out that money is missing from the church's coffers. ABC12 News has the amount could top $200,000.
Pastor Connie Sassanella told parishioners about the investigation during a service a few weeks ago.
A parishioner says Sassanella also told the congregation a man suspected of the embezzlement has been identified and that he is cooperating with Michigan State Police investigators. She did not identify the man, but ABC12 News has learned he is a long-time member of St John's Lutheran.
Sassanella had no comment Monday on the investigation, referring all questions to the state police.
At this time, all MSP will say is that an investigation into the missing funds has started and several search warrants have been executed, including one at the suspect's house and some at Saginaw area
We've also learned investigators took a computer from the Saginaw Township Fire Department in connection with the case, but the reason the computer was taken is not clear.
Parishioners we spoke with declined comment on camera, but they say they haven't been told much about the investigation and are stunned it's taking place.
The investigation continues, and if criminal charges are issued, it most likely won't happen until next week at the earliest.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Church administrator accused of embezzling $400, 000 in Canada

A longtime parishioner says she’s ready to forgive after hundreds of thousands of dollars were allegedly stolen from the St. Bernadette Parish in Windsor Park.
A former church administrator is accused of stealing $400,000 from the Roman Catholic church on Cottonwood Road.
Leo McCaughan, 39, is charged with theft, fraud and falsification of documents dating back to March 2009. None of the allegations has been proven and he is presumed innocent.
Denise Novog, a parishioner at St. Bernadette for 40 years, said she never suspected anything of McCaughan and will forgive him if he is convicted.
"It’s easier to forgive if it wasn’t your money," she said with a laugh. "But you’ll have to do it.
"My dealings with him is that he was very nice and he tried to help me with whatever I was doing," she said Wednesday.
"It’s kind of disappointing. We just have to keep on fundraising. Embezzlement is wrong, certainly. It happens and we just have to go on."

Audit uncovered problems

McCaughan, of Winnipeg, was an administrator at St. Bernadette for about a decade before an audit uncovered problems.
Police allege that, over a nearly five-year period ending in December 2014, McCaughan exploited his position by embezzling and withdrawing over $400,000. He then covered up his actions by entering false information into the general ledger, police added in the release.
The inconsistencies were detected during a routine audit done by the Archdiocese of St. Boniface that began in late May 2015. The church called in the police commercial crime unit in July.
McCaughan worked at the church for about 10 years and left of his own accord in January 2015, prior to the church audit. He is single and didn’t have any children — a fact that meant some who knew him didn’t think twice about his spending, an acquaintance told the Free Press.

Parisioners 'feel betrayed'

The police had already been informed of the fraud allegations by the time St. Bernadette parish pastor Fr. Phil Daley was appointed to the church in August 2015.
Daley said he has never met McCaughan.
The priest said he believed the funds were stolen through fraudulent cheques, cash donations being pocketed and "creative bookkeeping."
Daley said he’s going to help his parishioners — about 1,500 to 2,000 families — heal from the news their donations and Sunday collection money was allegedly stolen for years and used to pay for a "lavish" lifestyle.
"It’s a place where a lot of people come together and they think they’re doing good, they know they’re doing good. So to have somebody betray that, I think that’s really where the biggest impact of victimization for the parishioners is going to be. They’re going to feel betrayed by this, and we’ll have to get over that."
The church was bleeding money even though the community was "trying desperately" to raise money for necessary renovations to the aging building, Daley said.
He said the church was in need of maintenance when he arrived: lights were burnt out and paint was peeling.
"They were having trouble making ends meet, even just from the point of view of maintaining the parish and they were talking about ways to cut. They were constantly cutting and still not making it," Daley said.
A new bookkeeper took over after McCaughan left and the church now has more oversight in place to make sure one person doesn’t have authority over all the money-handling, Daley said, and there are plans to seek restitution for the stolen funds.
McCaughan worked for many years with the previous pastor, Fr. Fred Olds, who left St. Bernadette last summer after 20 years. He’s now a pastor at St. Timothy Parish in St. Vital, but could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

'Devastating' news: usher

Don Buccini has been an usher with the church since 1968 and described the news as "devastating" for the church.
He acknowledged that McCaughan was no longer a member of the congregation, but said most of the regular church members were just finding out why he left the organization.
"I think a lot of this was hush-hush," Buccini said Wednesday, adding it was most likely for privacy reasons. "I know there is going to be a lot of comments."
As a longstanding member of the church and usher, Buccini said he was informed of the allegations about six months ago when the archdiocese conducted the audit.
"I did not know anything about what was happening and I knew Leo very well," he said. "It was very surprising."
Buccini described McCaughan as a friendly thrill-seeker who used to race cars at Red River Co-op Speedway and was a frequent face at the church.
"He (McCaughan) has been there for a long time and I have done business with him for a long time," he said. "But it is only one person and sometimes you have to take a backseat and see what transpires."

'Major setback' for St. Bernadette: archdiocese

In a written statement, the Archdiocese of St. Boniface said since the discovery of the missing funds, it has issued an audit report outlining recommendations to establish internal controls. The archdiocese said it is working closely with the church’s new pastor and the parish finance committee to implement safeguards to ensure parish assets are protected. The archdiocese has been conducting routine audits of all parishes during the last two years.
"The Archdiocese of Saint Boniface is deeply saddened for the parishioners of St. Bernadette. People have donated funds to the parish in good faith," said the statement. "This is a major setback for the people of St. Bernadette. However, the archdiocese, the new pastor, the deacon and the staff are committed to working together to heal the parish’s wounds."
Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen said the case is "incredibly concerning."
"Whether we’re talking about $1,000 or $400,000 is essentially irrelevant," Michalyshen said.
"If an individual is in a position of trust such as this, any group or organization has those high standards or the expectation that they’re going to conduct themselves professionally and ethically.
"But unfortunately, from time to time, individuals will take advantage of their positions."
Michalyshen said co-operation from the church and archdiocese moved the investigation forward.
"This is serious. This is a significant amount of money and it’s important that these funds, that essentially come from the public, that this be made public," Michalyshen said.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Chickahominy Baptist Church Treasurer Sentenced to Five Years for Embezzlement in Virginia

A James City County woman was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling money from Chickahominy Baptist Church.
Alice Rebecca Wilson, 57, was arrested in June 2014 after investigators determined she had embezzled more than $4,800 from the church, of which she was the treasurer at the time.
Wilson used part of the church to run her daycare business, Alice’s Wonderland. Investigators with the James City County Police Department said she had an agreement with the church to pay utility bills from her personal funds in exchange for using the church’s space, but in fact she was using the church’s checking account to pay the bills.
The church’s pastor was contacted by the Internal Revenue Service in January 2014 regarding back taxes, at which point he began to investigate the church’s finances. He discovered the utility bill payments during that investigation, prompting him to approach Wilson, investigators said.
Though charges against Wilson were dropped in September 2014 due to lack of evidence, they were brought back two months later and she went to trial last September.
Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court Judge Michael McGinty found there was sufficient evidence Wilson had committed felony embezzlement but decided to withhold officially making a finding of guilt until after a pre-sentence report could be prepared.
Wilson reappeared before the court Wednesday. Defense Attorney Ivan Fehrenbach called her son to testify as a character witness on her behalf in the hopes the judge would be persuaded to reduce her felony charge to a misdemeanor.
“I developed my work ethic from her,” Ryland Wilson said of his mother. “She’s the backbone of our family.”
Fehrenbach argued that in addition to being a good mother, Wilson is also a notably civic-minded individual.
“She’s the only client I’ve ever had that has asked me about her voting rights if she is convicted of a felony,” Fehrenbach said. “She takes her role in the community very seriously.”
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Joshua DeFord focused on the fact the embezzlement charge stems from a series of decisions rather than a single lapse in judgment in his argument for the prosecution.
“This was not a situation where you have one bad choice. You had several bad choices,” DeFord said.
Despite noting that Wilson’s record was “glowing” outside of this one criminal incident, McGinty ultimately sided with the prosecution and found Wilson guilty of the felony charge.
“The court views embezzlement as a serious crime because it is committed from a position of trust. It’s not like walking in and robbing a store,” McGinty said. “There is no question that [her crime] has had a devastating impact on [the Chickahominy Baptist Church] community.”
McGinty sentenced Wilson to five years in prison with all time suspended and ordered her to pay back $4,959.50 in restitution to the victims, that she had come to court prepared to pay back almost that entire amount on the spot.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Former St. George Greek Orthodox treasurer pleads guilty to theft of $400,000 in Tennessee

The former treasurer of St. George Greek Orthodox Church will serve the first portion of a 10-year split sentence in a Knox County jail this month after his guilty plea Friday to stealing more than $400,000 from church coffers.
Constantine D. Christodoulou, 48, of Knoxville is slated to report Jan. 22 to begin serving one year in jail, with nine years on probation, according to Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen.
Christodoulou is entitled to whatever jail credits he can accumulate to shorten the sentence, said Assistant District Attorney General Sean McDermott.
Knox County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Martha Dooley said jail officials were unable to say how much time could be shaved off Christoldoulou's one-year sentence. She said jail officials did not have Christoldoulou's paperwork, so they couldn't determine which sentence-shrinking credits might apply to his case.
Credits can be awarded for good behavior, educational courses, substance abuse classes and working around the jail.
Christodoulou's sentencing concludes a story that began Feb. 26, when the Rev. Anthony Stratis informed church members through a letter that the former treasurer had been stealing from them for years. Church officials did not report the theft to police until two months after the News Sentinel published a story on the embezzlement. Stratis had initially written in the letter that the church would not seek prosecution.
Christodoulou between Dec. 30, 2010, and Feb. 21, 2015, "wrote checks to himself from church accounts that were not authorized by church officials," Allen stated in a news release. He placed the money into "business and personal accounts," she said.
Allen placed the total theft at $415,950. Christodoulou has repaid $145,000 of the pilfered money, Allen said, and the church's insurance company paid $50,000 on the claim.
Allen said the church spent $3,725 internally investigating the theft.
Christodoulou has agreed to pay another $224,675 in restitution, Allen said.
"Under the terms of this agreement, we made sure Christodoulou will serve time in custody for his crime and will be supervised upon his release," Allen said. "Most importantly, we have retained jurisdiction over the case to make sure Christodoulou pays his restitution and the church is made whole."
Christodoulou appeared Friday morning with his attorney, Mike Whalen, before Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee and agreed to be charged through a bill of information. Through that agreement, Christodoulou waived his right to a grand jury review or to a trial.
Christodoulou's probation means officials will have legal control over him to be sure he repays the embezzled money.
Christodoulou did not respond to calls for comment.
"It's a lot of money," Whalen said Friday.
He would not address what the money was spent on.
"Once it became apparent, he admitted to it," Whalen said.
Whalen said Christodoulou sold his travel business and a house to raise the $145,000 already repaid and plans to sell other properties to reimburse the church. He said the Christodoulou family had been active in the church for decades, but Constantine Christodoulou apparently no longer participates in church services.
"This is a community he has been a part of all his life, so it's not been easy on him," Whalen said.
McDermott said he didn't know what Christodoulou had done with the pilfered money.
The theft left the church with less than $2,000 in its bank accounts, prompting church leaders to approve obtaining a $150,000 loan to stabilize finances.
The low cash balance also delayed a decision to install a fire alarm system that had been reviewed and approved by the church, Stratis said.
At 6:50 a.m. April 12 — the Eastern Orthodox Easter — a passerby reported flames in the sanctuary. By then, flames already had damaged the ornate dome in the sanctuary and raced through the structure.
Knoxville fire investigators eventually settled upon candles used in the night service that ended early in the morning April 12 as the probable cause of the fire. Someone had tossed a candle in a trash can and didn't douse it in the tray of sand at the rear of the sanctuary, investigators said.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Former teacher, coach accused of embezzling charity funds in Michigan

A former high school teacher and baseball coach is facing embezzlement charges.
Timothy Phipps, 49, of Flint allegedly used Kearsley officials’ names to embezzle money, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board.
This was done by setting up poker games, diverting the funds and using some of the proceeds for personal use, the board said.
This allegedly happened at 22 charity poker events between July 2012 and October 2013. The events were advertised as fundraisers for Kearsley district schools, where Phipps worked.
He was a physical education teacher and baseball coach at Kearsley High School.
Phipps was arraigned on Nov. 13 for embezzlement and charity gaming law violations.
“Phipps allegedly misrepresented himself as an official or agent of various schools in the Kearsley school district to obtain millionaire party licenses and divert tens of thousands of dollars raised through charity poker events,” said Richard Kalm, MGCB executive director.  “Investigators discovered district officials were unaware of 22 millionaire party events for which he obtained licenses. Phipps allegedly diverted funds from the events, which were advertised as fundraisers for the district’s schools.”
The events were held at Gloria’s Poker Palace and Pocket Aces in Flint. The MGCB shut both venues down in 2013 for violations.
Non-profit organizations may receiver four licenses a year to host these types of events for charity purposes, the MGCB said.
Phipps chaired 49 millionaire party events or paid a family member or family friend to act as chairman between 2009 and 2013.  He allegedly forged district officials’ signatures on event applications and reportedly placed some gambling profits in a bank account for the Kearsley Baseball Boosters group, which is not affiliated with the schools. While some funds were used legitimately, investigators say nearly $17,000 was never deposited into the schools’ or boosters’ accounts,” the MGCB said in a press release.
Kearsley schools has cooperated with the investigation.
Phipps was charged with one count of embezzlement of $1,000 or more, two counts of gambling-charitable gaming-disposition of proceeds for devoting a portion of the net proceeds of a millionaire party for an unlawful purpose by using proceeds for personal use.
Phipps acts violate Michigan’s Bingo Act, the MGCB said.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Travel agent accused of stealing from Smithfield High families facing charges in second county in Michigan

A travel agent charged with embezzling money from nine Smithfield High School families in connection to a botched Europe trip was arrested Wednesday on similar accusations from seven more families in Warren County.

Augustine Acheampong, 33, who owns Lorton-based Grade A Travel, turned himself in last week to Isle of Wight County authorities after a grand jury indicted him on nine counts of embezzlement, authorities said.

He was in Isle of Wight General District Court on Wednesday for a hearing to determine his lawyer when authorities served him warrants for seven additional counts of embezzlement on behalf of Warren County, according to officials from both counties.

Warren County is about 200 miles northwest of Isle of Wight.

Acheampong, who was released last week on a $5,000 bond for the Isle of Wight charges, will be taken to Western Tidewater Regional Jail, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips. His arraignment in Warren County is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Dec. 9, according to Warren County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton.

Augustine Acheampong, 33, is facing nine counts of embezzlement.  (Isle of Wight County Sheriff's Office) His preliminary hearing in Isle of Wight is scheduled for Jan. 27, 2016, Phillips said.

Authorities said the new charges are connected to students from Warren County High School who were supposed to go on the Europe trip with Smithfield High students before it was canceled days before departure.

Smithfield parents and students said their group of 18 began planning the trip in 2014. The group found out in May that Acheampong was going to add two more Virginia high schools to the trip, including one in Warren County, parents told the Daily Press.

Warren County students had been fundraising and planning the trip for two years, according to the county’s sheriff’s office. He canceled their trip because there was a “lack of participation,” the sheriff’s office said.

The Smithfield High parents said Acheampong canceled the trip because he claimed their agent in Europe fell through.

The Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office began investigating complaints in September from parents who said they never got the refund Acheampong had promised them.

Warren County families first filed a complaint with their sheriff’s office in mid-September and claimed they weren’t refunded the $3,600 they each paid for the trip, Layton said. The sheriff’s office said one of ten people was partially reimbursed.

Multiple Smithfield parents – and at least one who was going to go on the trip -- told the Daily Press that they paid Acheampong about $3,300 each.