The Sting (part 3 of 3)

In prior weeks I told a rather unbelievable story that happened to me many years ago. Embezzlement happens in some church in America every week. Be aware of the opportunities for theft and prevent them.

 Here’s my suggestion for all churches: that the church treasurer and the church financial assistant/accountant coordinate each year to do a test of the cash handling by the tellers using the system outlined above.

On 3 or 4 pre-selected weeks, the church accountant put in the offering plate $50 in cash (1 twenty dollar bill, 2 ten dollar bills, 1 five dollar bill, and 5 one dollar bills). Before putting them in the offering plate, the bills must all be photocopied to capture their serial numbers.

After the tellers have counted for that week, then church treasurer and church accountant will go through the offering together – it is vital that this be done jointly to ensure there isn’t a potential for a false accusation. They will compare the actual cash received to the photocopied bills to ensure the cash was received in the offering plate.

  • If the photocopied cash was in the counted offering, then all is well and they can use that same $50 for the other weeks of the operation.
  • If the photocopied cash was NOT in the counted offering, then they need to bring a couple of lay leaders and together determine a course of action. That action should include continuing the photocopied cash when different members of the tellers are not present to eliminate suspects. By all means, keep this quiet – if it got out, it would be disastrous for the member’s confidence in the church’s financial operations.

Lead On!

Steve

 

 

The Sting (part 2 of 3)

The story below happened to me. I wrote it up as a case study for a class I taught. Every word (except the name of other people) is true – including the twist at the very end. I promise it isn’t made up.

As you read it, think about what you would do in my situation. Over 20 years have now passed since this happened, but embezzlement happens every week in some church in America. Be aware of the opportunities for theft and prevent them.

 

The Rest of the Story

Steve, Bob, & Larry decided to share this story with the senior pastor but not to bring in anybody else, not even the church’s treasurer or the chairman of the Finance Committee. Knowing that making accusations is dangerous and potentially could split the church, they decided to be surreptitious in their actions – they decided to do a sting operation.

Bob, Larry, Steve, and the pastor agreed to these details of the sting: each week Steve would get about $75 dollars which he would photocopy. He then gave the cash to Bob. The next Sunday, Bob met the ushers coming out of the 8 a.m. worship and said that he’d carry the offering to the Sunday School office. Bob slipped into an empty classroom – he pulled out all of the cash from the offering plates and replaced it with the photocopied cash he had put in his coat pocket. He then put the real offering cash in his coat and then went to the Sunday School office. He greeted Jody and left the bank bag where she said it goes. Bob took the real cash to Steve’s office and left it in a hidden place.

On Monday, the church treasurer (who was not in on the sting) did her counting with the volunteers as normal. When she finished counting, she gave the money to Steve to post in the accounting software. Steve closed his office door and spread all the cash out on his desk and pulled out the photocopies of the cash that was planted. It took a while to compare the copies to the cash because there was money from both services and it was co-mingled. After about 20 minutes, Steve had his results – $28 was missing. He called Bob and told him the results.

Bob and Steve carried out this sting for three more weeks and told Larry and the pastor the results each week. Each week there was about $30 missing, but never the same figure. The second week $28 was missing and the fourth week $33 was gone. The third week nothing was missing – not one dollar bill. That week was the proof that was needed because that week Jody was gone on vacation. It was clear, when Jody was at church, money disappeared and when she was absent, money didn’t go missing.

Even though Bob and Steve had proof after three weeks that it was Jody, they continued it for one more week – Jody was back from vacation but the treasurer was gone on vacation. And money disappeared which meant that the church treasurer didn’t steal the money because she was not in town. Actually, Bob did the sting operation a fifth week and didn’t tell Steve. Steve was gone on vacation out of town and money still disappeared. That provided complete proof: only when Jody was out of town did money not go missing. Jody was guilty.

Bob, Larry, Steve, and the pastor met to talk about the next steps. They agreed that the pastor and the lay leaders (but not Steve because they wanted to protect him) would meet with Jody. The result of the meeting was that Jody confessed immediately. She even admitted to stealing money from the Wednesday supper receipts. Here is “the rest of the rest of the story:”

  • Jody was removed from her position and given a nice “retirement” party
  • Money was handled better– it was placed in the safe by two ushers after each service
  • The Treasurer and Finance Committee were told about this event 18 months after it was over but it was done in complete confidence
  • No one else in the church was told about this
  • No legal or tax authority was informed because it would have meant a tax liability and a felony conviction for Jody

Final Notes:

  • Jody took about $30 each Sunday and $30 each Wednesday. She did this 50 weeks a year for a total of $3,000 per year. She was in her position for 20 years which means she could have taken over $50,000.
  • And finally, Jody took a vacation each year to the same place – Las Vegas – using the money she stole from the church.

 Lead On!

Steve

 

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