Church's Former Worker Arrested

By Michael A. Scarcella
Herald Tribune
July 26, 2008

LONGBOAT KEY - The former bookkeeper at St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church was arrested Friday on theft and fraud charges, accused of stealing nearly $330,000 from the Catholic church for personal use.

Margaret Carroll is accused of fraud and theft. Margaret Carroll is accused of fraud and theft.

Manatee County sheriff's detectives say Margaret A. Carroll, 66, whom the Diocese of Venice fired after theft allegations surfaced last year, spent tens of thousands of dollars on home repair and even bought a new car with stolen money. She also wrote checks to family members, authorities say.

Carroll, who is free on bail, declined comment Friday other than saying that she is making restitution. Carroll deferred questions to her attorney, Derek Byrd, in Sarasota.

"The facts really are not in dispute here," Byrd said. "She made a terrible mistake over a long period of time. She has been paying back the church for at least a year, and she intends on making full restitution."

Byrd called Carroll "your stereotypical sweet church lady," and said she is dealing with mental health issues. There were no elaborate purchases or trips, Byrd said.

The Rev. Edward Pick of St. Mary's also declined to comment Friday, referring questions to the Diocese of Venice. The diocese issued a statement that said officials are seeking restitution from Carroll, who had been an employee for 23 years and the bookkeeper at St. Mary's for the past six years.

"The diocese and parish leadership have cooperated fully with the investigation and will continue to cooperate with the State Attorney's Office in the prosecution of this case," the statement said.

Authorities said the alleged theft of money, discovered last year after irregularities were spotted during a financial review, happened between January 2002 and June 2007. A spokeswoman for the diocese, Adela Gonzales White, said the review was routine.

Diocese officials notified the Manatee County Sheriff's Office for "full disclosure," the statement said.

Last year, Bishop Frank J. Dewane met with Carroll and Pick for an interview. Carroll, a sheriff's detective said, admitted borrowing money without permission.

Carroll said in a letter to Dewane in June 2007 that she should have asked before taking the money, according to sheriff's reports. Carroll offered a payment plan.

In an interview with authorities, Carroll said she used St. Mary's credit cards for personal use and had not paid anything to the church until the alleged scheme was discovered.

Carroll, authorities say, wrote nearly $40,000 in checks to two relatives, including her husband and son. She spent nearly $75,000 at Lowe's and Home Depot, according to sheriff's reports.

First-degree grand theft is a felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The range of punishment options includes probation, Byrd said.


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