Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Church Embezzlement Cases Galore...

FraudTalk has chronicled 21 major church embezzlement cases in the past year.  See our article, Vanquishing the Scourge of Church Embezzlement.

Some interesting statistics in these cases include:
  • 19 out of the 21 cases (90.5%) involve an alleged perpetrator who held a bookkeeping, finance or other fiduciary position;
  • 4 out of the 21 cases (19%) involve an alleged perpetrator with a prior history of fraud;
  • Average duration: 7 years
June 2011 - Eun Tae Lee, 50, of Fairfax, Virginia, was sentenced to 1 year in jail and ordered to pay restitution for embezzling more than $700,000 from Seed International Inc., a missionary company sponsored by the Korean Central Presbyterian Church for which he had served as Chief Administrative Officer. According to authorities, Lee gained control of Seed International's bank account and wrote checks to accounts he had set up in his own name. The thefts are believed to date back to at least 2006. Lee is reported to have used the ill-gotten gains to finance a lavish lifestyle including the purchase of a Porsche Cayenne sport-utility vehicle.

May 2011 - Beth Ann Boger, 44, of Garrett, Indiana, was charged with embezzling more than $364,000 from the St. Joseph Catholic Church where she had served as bookkeeper. According to authorities, over a nearly five year period, from June 2004 to April 2009, Boger wrote checks from church coffers to a business she owned called Accents By Beth and used the money for her own benefit. Boger was indicted on six counts of felony wire fraud and four counts of felony tax evasion. Her case is pending.

May 2011 - Louanne Aponte, 52, of Austin, Texas, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for embezzling more than $1 million from Family Connections, a child care services non-profit, for which she had served as executive director. She also took funds from the Texas Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies and the Hyde Park Christian Church, where she had served as treasurer, according to prosecutors. When a state audit found that Aponte had falsified records, she reportedly fled to Venezuela in February 2010, but returned six months later when she was arrested. Louanne Aponte, formerly known as Louanne Shetter, was twice convicted on embezzlement charges in the 1980s, according to reports.

May 2011 - Raiffeisen Regalado, 41, last known to reside in Methuen, Massachusetts, was being sought by authorities in connection with his alleged embezzlement of $106,570 from the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Lawrence where he had served as treasurer. The embezzlement occurred in 2006 and 2007, but charges were not brought until recently, after he failed to make restitution as he reportedly agreed to do with church officials. The thefts involved fraudulent transfers of funds from church accounts to Regalado's personal accounts over that two year period.

May 2011 - Kathleen "Kathy" Dake, 58, of Danville, California, and two cohorts were arrested and charged with embezzling nearly $600,000 from the St. Isidore's Catholic Church in Danville, where Dake had served as office manager. According to authorities, Dake was a volunteer with the church's finance committee and together with her accomplices, systematically looted its finances by making unauthorized credit card charges for personal purposes as well as writing church checks for their own benefit. Approximately $580,000 is believed to have been misappropriated by the trio. Her case is pending.

April 2011 - Jessica Lynn Tramel, 32, of Bristol, Tennessee, was charged with embezzling some $229,265 from the Unaka Avenue Baptist Church where she had served as church secretary. Tramel was charged with 150 counts of forgery, theft of property over $60,000 and identity theft. Tramel is believed to have issued checks to herself and forging signatories signatures. Her case is pending.

March 2011 - Jon Michael Ruppel, 46, of St. Joseph, Michigan, was charged with embezzling nearly $300,000 from Saint Peter's United Church of Christ where he had served as church treasurer. According to authorities, Ruppel's thefts spanned an 8 year period beginning in or about 2002, by taking cash from the collection plate as well as fraudulently withdrawing funds from the church's gift account for his own benefit. Ruppel’s case is pending and he faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the charge of embezzlement of more than $100,000.

February 2011 - Alan Jonas, 63, formerly of New Britain, Connecticut, was charged with first degree larceny for allegedly embezzling nearly $400,000 from the First Baptist Church in Southington, Connecticut where he had served as head of its finance committee. According to authorities, over a period of six years from 2004 until 2010, Jonas issued at least 111 checks on church accounts to himself or for his own benefit. Ironically, Jonas, a CPA by training, was in prison at the time for embezzling $38,000 from Chorale Connecticut, a non-profit he served as treasurer as well as another $70,000 from an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Jonas was also previously convicted in 1999 of embezzling $22,000 from Middlesex Hospital, where he had served as chief financial officer. His most recent case, involving the First Baptist Church, is pending.

January 2011 - Kenneth Terrell, 46, of Bloomingdale, Georgia, was indicted on charges he embezzled at least $200,000 from the New Harvest International Ministries Church where he had served as pastor. According to the indictment, Terrell skimmed "hundreds of thousands" of dollars from church coffers to support a "lavish" lifestyle over at least a four year period. Specifically, Terrell was charged with 7 counts of wire fraud for which he faces up to 20 years in prison. He has separately been charged with child molestation and sexual battery against a minor, according to reports. Apparently Terrell has a long criminal history that includes prior child molestation charges and multiple DUIs, burglary, forgery, criminal trespass, obstruction, disorderly conduct and drug charges. In May 2011, Terrell plead guilty to one count of wire fraud in a plea agreement in this case and is awaiting sentencing.

January 2011 - Elyse Marie Kennedy, 37, of Santa Ana, California, was charged with embezzling about $129,000 from the St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Tustin where she had served as bookkeeper. The thefts allegedly spanned a period of 2 years, from 2007 until early 2009 whereby Kennedy issued at least 154 checks to herself or for her own benefit. She has been charged with 154 felony forgery counts. We note that Kennedy has a prior conviction for embezzlement in 2005. Her case is pending.

December 2010 - Sandra "Sandy" Arreola, 51, currently of Palm Desert, California, was charged with embezzling about $2.1 million from the Visalia First Assembly Of God church where she had been employed as accounting manager for nearly 13 years. According to authorities, Arreloa skimmed cash from the church over a period of six years, from 2003 until 2009, when the scheme was revealed. She allegedly stole as much as $7,000 a week from the collections and used the money to enrich herself, purchase luxury property and businesses. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges and her case is pending.

November 2010 - Farrukh Ahmed, 48, of Ontario, California, pleaded no contest to charges he embezzled as much as $960,000 from the Calvary Chapel Chino Hills where he had served as church administrator. Ahmed's cash thefts from the church reportedly span a four year period from January 2006 when he was hired as administrator until December 2009 after he was caught by a parishioner stealing cash from the offering envelopes meant for the church. Ahmed was sentenced to only 9 months in prison.

November 2010 - Barbara D. Whitt, 68, and her son Michael Dean Whitt, 42, both of Morristown, Tennessee, were charged with misappropriating more than $1.5 million from the First Baptist Church in Morristown where Barbara had served as church financial secretary for 47 years. According to authorities, Barbara Whitt issued at least 1,650 checks made out to "cash" pocketing the funds. The thefts are believed to have spanned a period of more than 2 years, from January 2008 until April 2010. Michael Whitt is alleged to have participated in the fraud and benefitted from the ill-gotten proceeds. In February 2011, both Barbara Whitt and Michael Whitt pleaded guilty to bank fraud, money laundering and conspiracy charges. They are awaiting sentencing.

November 2010 - Patricia Ladawn Poehls, aka, Rylie Joe Trish Wilson, 37, of Bruceville, Texas, pleaded guilty to charges she embezzled more than $154,000 from St. Jerome Catholic Church where she had served as youth coordinator and bookkeeper responsible for payroll. Prosecutors alleged that over the course of about one and a half years, from January 2007 to June 2008, Poehls pilfered from church coffers to pay for personal luxuries by making unauthorized credit card charges and issuing fraudulent church checks made to herself or personal vendors. In January 2011, Poehls was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay restitution.

September 2010 - David A. Thompson, of Canal Winchester, Ohio, believed to be in his late 40s, was found guilty of embezzling more than $1 million from The World of Pentecost Church in Columbus, where he had served as pastor. Prosecutors alleged that Thompson misappropriated funds from the church over a 9 year period from 1998 to 2007. He was charged with the thefts in 20 felony counts in late February 2009 and was alleged to have stolen funds from the church's building and assistance funds. Thompson apparently used the church as his own personal piggy bank and reportedly spent the ill-gotten gains to support a lavish lifestyle, including expenditures on luxury cars, a pool, a boat and hair treatments. Thompson, who became pastor of the church in 1995, was sentenced to 5 years in prison in December 2010.

September 2010 - Robert G. Mathis, 64, formerly of Birch Run, Michigan, was charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from Christ Lutheran Church in Birch Run where he had served as congregation president for the prior 12 years. Authorities allege that Mathis misappropriated the funds by writing checks for his own benefit and forging signatures of authorized church officials. Mathis has since pleaded guilty to the charges and is awaiting sentencing.

August 2010 - Alan Eugene Roland, 55, and his wife, Linda Guffie Roland, 55, both of Mount Holly, North Carolina, were charged with embezzling more than $360,000 from the Way of the Cross Baptist Church where they had served as Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer, respectively. According to prosecutors, the Rolands used their positions to write more than 800 checks to themselves over a three-year period between 2007 and 2010. Their case is pending.

August 2010 - Michele Moeser Roberts, 61, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was charged with embezzling nearly $300,000 from King's Grant Baptist Church, where she had served as financial administrator. According to prosecutors, Roberts misappropriated $287,678 from church coffers over a six year period beginning in October 2004. The scheme was not uncovered until the church's new financial administrator took over the job. Roberts pleaded guilty to the charges in December 2010 and was sentenced to 4 years in prison in April 2011.

July 2010 - Kathy Koonts Sechriest, 53, of Thomasville, North Carolina, was arrested and charged with embezzling about $186,000 from the Zion United Church of Christ where she had served as church secretary. According to prosecutors, Sechriest skimmed the funds over a five year period, from January 2005 until January 2010. Her case is pending.

June 2010 - Christine Mae Lorenz, 48, of Okeene, Oklahoma, was charged with embezzling more than $176,000 from the First Baptist Church of Okeene where she had served as treasurer. According to prosecutors, over more than a four year period, between February 2005 and May 2009, Lorenz stole $127,748 from one of the church's accounts. Over a similar period, Lorenz allegedly stole another $48,895 from the church's general fund checking account. Lorenz was hired as treasurer of the church in September 2004 and remained in that position until June 2009 when irregularities were discovered. Her case is pending.

June 2010 - Donna M. Rood, 47, of Tyngsborough, Massachusetts, was indicted for skimming "well over" $100,000 from the collections coffers of the St. Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church where she had been responsible for counting collections. Prosecutors allege that over a four year period, from about 2005 until 2009, Rood simply kept some of the cash from the collections, in the form of large cash bills and deposited them into her own accounts. The scheme was uncovered by a parish priest who had suspicions and privately counted the collections and found regular discrepancies with Rood's count. Rood pleaded guilty in June 2011 to larceny by embezzlement over $250 and making false entries in corporate books. For her crime, Rood was sentenced to 5 years probation, plus restitution.

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