Attention Churches, Congregations and Temples

Your organization’s finances may be in jeopardy at the hands of your own people.

Every day this week when I searched Google News for “embezzlement” the top story has been a religious organization victimized by one of their employees. Although these articles are in papers across the country, it is alarming when you consider that only one in nine end up in the media. Roughly translated, there were potentially 24 more cases this week not in the media.

In my experience religious organizations are on the list of top ten victim organizations. Often the theft goes undetected until there has been a change in personnel or the finances run dry leading to an independent inquiry.

Please do not allow your organization to be added to the growing number of victims. Review your organization’s internal controls today, or have someone independent come in and provide objective advice and oversight over your employees’ handling of your finances. Review your bank accounts and activity – for ALL your bank accounts.

Here is today’s top headline:

Tallahassee Democrat. Former church bookkeeper Roseanne Stone sat between two supporters before her name was called Tuesday morning in Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Dekker’s courtroom. The tall, soft-spoken woman is accused of possibly the biggest embezzlement case the Leon County Sheriff’s Office had ever seen: the theft of $512,000 from Episcopal Church of the Advent.

Monday marked Stone’s plea hearing in the case in which she was arrested on charges of grand theft and money laundering. Attorneys agreed to eliminate the money-laundering charge.

Stone’s attorney, Robert Harper Jr., said, “We’re not contesting the facts of the grand-theft charge. It’s going to be an issue of paying back the church and the people who have been hurt.”

Stone, 50, requested a departure sentence thereby forgoing a jury trial. She could receive a minimum of 21 months in prison. The maximum is 30 years. Prosecuting attorney Frank Allman said even though the money-laundering charge was eliminated, he didn’t want the “sentencing guidelines or punishment code” waived.

Allman told Dekker, “(Stone) still will be subject to the punishments posted.”

Dekker said to Stone, “I have no idea what I’m going to do with you. I’m going to listen to everybody’s argument. Then I’m going to do what I think is the best thing to do. I make no promises. These are serious charges.”

Then Dekker asked Stone various questions about her plea and her mental capacity.

“Have you ever been treated or diagnosed with mental problems?” Dekker asked.

Stone said she suffers from bipolar disorder. Stone takes a mood stabilizer. She assured the judge that she was stable Monday and then clarified her statement by saying, “I’m feeling now the best I’ve felt probably in eight years.”

Dekker wanted to make sure that Stone was aware that she could receive a lighter sentence because of her mental illness. But she said there are no guarantees. No sentencing date was determined.

In February, the Sheriff’s Office said Stone took the money from three church accounts over four years. Sgt. James McQuaig said it was possibly the biggest embezzlement case the Sheriff’s Office has ever seen. He said Stone used the money to buy antiques, jewelry, silverware, lamps and glassware on eBay.

“We counted and literally have hundreds of items seized as evidence,” McQuaig said at the time.