The Fraud Examiner

Fraud of Faith: When Churches Fall Victim to Embezzlement
 

Sarah Hofmann

Public Information Officer, ACFE

                 


Many revere houses of worship as the ultimate places of trust, and the people who work for them, pillars of the community. That makes it all the more painful when a church, synagogue or mosque, and their worshippers, fall victim to embezzlement.


Unfortunately, that inherent trust is one of the factors that can make it all-too-easy for fraud to flourish in religious establishments. Congregants often want to believe that those aligned with their faith would never take advantage of others. That, coupled with the fact that many religious organizations do not have the manpower or funds to conduct extensive audits or maintain clear separation of duties, creates a ripe opportunity for fraud.


A recent study by LifeWay Research said one in 10 protestant pastors report their church has experienced fraud. LifeWay’s executive director Scott McConnell explained, “Churches run on trust — but they also know people are imperfect and can be tempted. That’s why safeguarding a church’s finances is an important part of ministry … It’s helpful to have a second set of eyes look at the church books.” A look at current news stories shows just how prevalent fraud can be in religious organizations.

 

From collection plate to construction project

Rev. Jonathan Wehrle of St. Martha Parish in Okemos, Michigan, was charged earlier in the year with one count of embezzlement of $100,000 or more, but according to theLansing State Journal,prosecutors estimate about $5 million is missing from the parish. According to an audit, Wehrle reportedly used checks from the church to pay his mortgage, property taxes and countless home improvement or construction projects.

 


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