Former Church Secretary Jailed for Theft

By Paul Curtis

December 29, 2008

A woman diverted as much as $85,000 from two churches

LIHUE A former Kauai resident now living on Oahu was sentenced to 18 months in prison and five years' probation Friday for stealing more than $20,000 from two Kauai Catholic churches where she worked as a secretary.

She is free on bail pending appeal.

Daria Bruce, 62, was sentenced by Kauai Circuit Judge Randal G.B. Valenciano, who told Bruce that her apology was "not sincere as far as the court is concerned." For rehabilitation to occur, some feel there needs to be some remorse, or admission of guilt, and "you haven't crossed that bridge," Valenciano said.

Michael Jay Green, Bruce's attorney, said he will appeal the sentence. Bruce was found guilty by a jury in August of first-degree theft, and faced up to 10 years in prison for diverting funds designated for Holy Cross Church in Kalaheo and Sacred Hearts Church in Eleele.

She served as church secretary for more than 20 years and diverted as much as $85,000 from church accounts into a Filipino Catholic club account between 1998 and 2005, according to Deputy County Prosecutor Mauna Kea Trask.

She was fired in 2005 after an auditor from the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu found that checks made payable to the church ended up in the Filipino Catholic club account.

Defense Attorney William Feldhacker said during opening statements that Bruce exchanged checks for cash between the club and the church and that she often paid bills for the church and the club out of her own pocket, then reimbursed herself.

The case, Valenciano observed, split the Catholic communities of Kalaheo and Eleele, with some writing letters in support of Bruce and others writing letters demanding the maximum sentence.

A tearful Porfiria "Carole" Nacion, a former friend of Bruce's and now the person holding her former job, was the only community member who spoke during the sentencing.

"You were respected," Nacion said. "All the time you were planning your personal financial gain."

She added, "Your crime caused pain and humiliation to our parish" and made the Holy Cross Filipino Catholic Club a "laughingstock" in the parish.

"You refused to accept any blame" and have not shown any regret or remorse, "only arrogance," she said. "Consider all the people you hurt. Hopefully, this sentence will make you a better and honest person."

Bruce said, "I just want to say I'm so sorry for everything. God knows. I'm so sorry for all the people who are involved."

Valenciano ordered Bruce to also repay the churches $5,000, the amount of the loss not covered by church insurance policies, pay a $150 probation services fee and complete 500 hours of community service.

Valenciano also ordered Bruce to undergo counseling and be screened for drug abuse. He confiscated her passport to alleviate Trask's concern that she might be a flight risk and return to her native Philippines.

Valenciano granted Green's request for Bruce's release on bail pending appeal.


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