From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Pennsylvania church takes $41,000 hit

Date 13 Aug 2002 16:27:30 -0400

Note #7384 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Pennsylvania church takes $41,000 hit

Longtime receptionist pleads guilty to theft, credit-card fraud
by Evan Silverstein

LOUISVILLE - A longtime receptionist of Woodside Presbyterian Church in suburban Philadelphia had pleaded guilty to stealing more than $41,000 from the congregation.

Lynn E. Inglesby, 47, admitted in Bucks County Court on Aug. 7 that she opened numerous credit-card accounts in the church's name and bought personal items including jewelry and lingerie. She also admitted to misusing other church credit cards and embezzling from the 480-member congregation.

Judge John Rufe sentenced Inglesby to three months to 23 months of house arrest, followed by three years' probation, on three felony counts of theft and one felony count of credit-card fraud. 

The judge also ordered Inglesby to pay more than $37,000 in restitution - $24,707 to the church, $10,000 to an insurance company that covered some of the losses and $2,786 to the issuer of one of the cards, MBNA. Inglesby also was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

A church official said in a letter read in court that the losses have harmed Woodside's programs and delayed essential purchases. 

Inglesby worked as a receptionist at the church in Yardley, PA, from June 1992 to last year, when church elders uncovered the thefts. 

Between January 1998 and August 2001, Inglesby misused church credit cards and opened new accounts to obtain clothing, jewelry, household items, cash advances and mail-order Victoria's Secret lingerie, according to court records.

Records for that period show that Inglesby made purchases of $9,663.82 on credit accounts she opened without permission in Woodside's name at Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and MBNA Bank. The purchases included dog food, rugs, toilets, furnace filters and jewelry.

Inglesby also made unauthorized purchases totaling $6,950.55 on church-approved cards to obtain such items as a lawn mower and home electronics from Builders Square and Home Depot. She also bought several computers on the church's account at Staples, keeping some for herself and "donating" others to the congregation.

In addition to misusing church credit cards, Inglesby cut herself three extra paychecks totaling $3,408 between January and May of 2001, according to court documents, and cashed more than $20,000 in church checks for personal use, claiming to have used the money for postage. She also purchased $3,606 in unauthorized items from other local businesses.

She was arrested in May after a nine-month police investigation. 

The Rev. Douglas C. Hoglund, Woodside's pastor, declined to comment. It was a surprise phone call to Hoglund from Sam's Club last Aug. 29 that eventually led to Inglesby's arrest. The caller said the church was four months behind on payments on a Sam's Club account in the church's name and had a balance of about $1,000. Hoglund learned that the account had been opened in July 1999, and that the authorized signature was Inglesby's.

Two days later, the pastor got a letter from Staples indicating that Woodside owed more than $4,000 on merchandise Hoglund knew had not been bought by the church, which typically buys office supplies from another company.

On Sept. 2, Hoglund called a meeting of the church session on the matter, and the session decided to investigate further. Church officials went through a dumpster and office garbage cans, discovering shredded bills and late notices from accounts Inglesby had unlawfully opened.

On Sept. 4, when she was confronted by church officials, Inglesby initially denied that she had opened the accounts in Woodside's name, saying the cards had been sent to her by mistake. She admitted that she'd used church funds to make some credit payments, but said she intended to pay the money back.

Woodside officials fired Inglesby and contacted local police, who later filed charges of theft, receiving stolen property, theft by deception and device fraud (illegal use of a credit card).

"She victimized a lot of people," said David Zellis, Bucks county's first assistant district attorney, "all the members of that church."

In a letter read in court, church administrator Judith Jones said the thefts meant that Woodside couldn't buy a van for its youth program, fix a leaky roof or finish other projects. Among the programs affected, she said, were the Adventure Club (a children's program) and vacation Bible school.

According to the Bucks County Courier-Times, Inglesby's attorney, Niels Eriksen, said his client had mental health problems and was under financial stress when she stole the money. He said she has cooperated with police and already has paid back $3,600. 

"She is extremely remorseful," the attorney said. "She intends to pay back every dime."
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