The theft of more than $140,000 from a church shines light on the vulnerability of small organizations that put their finances in one person’s hands, a prosecutor said Monday.
Emma Maxwell, 54, of Fulton is facing a felony charge of second-degree grand larceny following an investigation that started in November, according to the Schoharie County Sheriff’s Department.
Bail was set at $5,000 cash or $10,000 bond and Maxwell was released on bail Friday, authorities said.
Police allege Maxwell stole $143,000 over the course of four years from the Breakabeen–North Blenheim Presbyterian Church and used the money to buy used cars, pay household bills and take vacations in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine.
Law enforcement officials, who gathered Monday at the county public safety facility to outline details of the investigation, said thefts from the Breakabeen-North Blenheim Presbyterian Church went undetected since about 2008, a year after Maxwell took on the volunteer position as treasurer.
“This highlights issues that many small organizations have had over the years. … There needs to be a system of internal controls so that one person isn’t someone that’s trusted, or isn’t solely accountable for all the money,” Schoharie County District Attorney James Sacket said.
Schoharie County Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Smith, lead investigator on the case, said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Kendall, discovered financial discrepancies after discussion last November with investment managers about the church’s mutual funds.
Smith said Maxwell’s position at the church was unpaid but she is believed to have accounting education and works for the Golub Corp.’s accounting department in Schenectady. Money was transferred from the church’s mutual fund account to a checking account and investigators allege Maxwell would then write checks out for “cash” and withdraw the money at NBT banks.
The alleged theft represents the loss of about half of the church’s savings, accumulated with the help of large donations from former church members, Smith said.
It was unclear Monday whether the losses affected the food pantry the faith community operates. Kendall could not be reached Monday for comment.
Smith said Kendall contacted authorities after church officials met with Maxwell and she admitted to them she took the money.
A Schoharie County grand jury convened and subpoenaed financial records during the investigation, which ended last week with Maxwell’s arrest.
“We’ve seen it with town highway superintendents, with town clerks, with church groups, with various different organizations where one person is entrusted with all the financial duties and that leads to these types of problems,” Sacket said.
Residents in Schoharie County have seen several cases over the years involving arrests or criticism in organizations with limited oversight on finances:
* An August 2011 audit by the state Comptroller’s Office determined former Sharon Springs Village Clerk Donna Barlow gave herself health insurance and a $4-per-hour pay raise without officials knowing about it.
* Investigators in 2009 charged West Fulton Fire District Treasurer Renee L. Salisbury with third-degree grand larceny and second-degree forgery and alleged she stole $11,162.81 from the district.
* Former Wright Town Clerk Marilyn Y. Wetsel was charged with official misconduct in 2007 after an investigation into irregularities in accounting involving hunting and fishing licenses and tickets to use the town’s transfer station.
* Former Fulton Town Clerk Iris E. Wood was arrested in July 2000 and later convicted of defrauding the government for stealing more than $15,000 in public funds.
* An audit by the state Comptroller’s Office released in 2002 revealed about $26,000 was unaccounted for in the Schoharie Town Justice Court fund. It led to an investigation, a trial, one acquittal and one conviction that was ultimately overturned by a higher court. The money was never accounted for.
* Former Schoharie County Treasurer Lawrence Tague was convicted of stealing more than $300,000 from estates after a 1994 arrest.
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Schenectady County