Crime

Church employee embezzled more than $400,000 from Blue Springs parish, officials say

Church officials said they discovered a case of employee theft at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, 4313 Missouri 7 in Blue Springs. This Google Maps image was taken in the area in April 2015.
Church officials said they discovered a case of employee theft at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, 4313 Missouri 7 in Blue Springs. This Google Maps image was taken in the area in April 2015.

A longtime employee at a Blue Springs church embezzled $446,000 over the past seven years, the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said Tuesday.

The employee, who had served St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church for decades, was confronted by an internal investigation team last week and has agreed to pay the funds back, said diocese spokesman Jack Smith.

“They came to an agreement to pay the balance in 60 days,” Smith said. “I believe between her and her husband, they can come up with the money.”

All parishes in the diocese are required to have a finance council to provide oversight, and it was a member of that council who finally uncovered the string of false checks, Smith said.

The parish used a checkbook system from which checks were torn out and an accounting stub was left in the book. The employee was writing checks to herself, then entering the names of various vendors on the stubs, Smith said.

Though the employee worked at the church for decades, the false checks occurred only during the past seven years, Smith said.

The finance council became aware of the theft in late July, and then an internal investigation by the parish, the diocese and a diocese attorney led to the employee’s firing Aug. 6.

An agreement was reached Aug. 17 on repaying the funds, Smith said. On Monday, the diocese reported its findings to the Blue Springs Police Department.

“It is an open investigation,” Blue Springs police spokeswoman Jennifer Dachenhausen wrote The Star in an email. “We are working closely with the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese.”

For larger parishes, and in the diocese offices, safeguards against financial fraud include having at least two people involved in signing checks and other financial transactions, according to a diocese financial administration manual.

The manual recognizes that smaller parishes may not always be able to have dual management of all finances, and offers alternative safeguards.

Those include recommendations that all bank statements and copies of cashed checks be sent to the attention of the pastor, who should open and review checks.

Periodic financial statements should be reviewed by the parish finance council at least quarterly, but preferably monthly, the guide recommends.

The embezzlement should have been uncovered sooner, Smith said.

“The diocese provides guidelines,” he said, “and (parishes) have to be vigilant following those guidelines.”

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