Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Ex-church worker accused of taking $200,000

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MASON - A former employee at Mason United Methodist Church is under investigation over allegations of stealing more than $200,000 from the congregation since 2001, police said Monday.

A Warren County grand jury is expected to hear evidence against the woman Friday and will consider charges of aggravated theft and tampering with records.

Pastor Sam Stover has called a meeting with the congregation at 7 p.m. Thursday to explain the allegations.

"They are struggling. They are trying to get back on their feet," Mason Detective Michael Jessee said, adding that the church was having trouble paying bills as a result of the missing money.

He said Stover became suspicious after discovering financial irregularities in September.

"Actually, the suspect took a day off, and the pastor needed to write a check, and it went downhill from there. He noticed a few things that didn't add up," Jessee said.

The church lost between $200,000 and $300,000 as a result of the thefts, he said.

The woman, who is married and has children in high school, is not being named because she has not been charged.

Stover and an associate pastor could not be reached Monday. But in a March 6 letter to the congregation, Stover said church officials "fully expected" that the woman would be indicted this week.

He said he called the congregational meeting because "the news media will be looking for a story" if charges are filed.

Stover urged the congregation to be calm and understanding.

"These are not easy things to digest, so I request you come prayerfully and in the spirit of Christian charity as we address some difficult issues and continue to look to the future with hope and a sense of joy," he wrote.

Jennifer Edwards contributed to this report.

E-mail smclaughlin@enquirer.com

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