"Evil church lady" Anita Collins, 67, stole $1M from church; shopped at Barney’s Brooks Brothers

By Melissa Grace and Corky Siemaszko
New York Daily News
January 30, 2012

Anita Collins in Manhattan Criminal Court for her arraignment on Monday afternoon. Charged with stealing one million dollars from the Archdiocese of New York, she was remanded back into custody on $350,000 cash or $750,000 bond. At left is her lawyer, Howard Simmons.

A career con woman who passed herself off as a devout church lady was charged Monday with breaking the Eighth Commandment in a big way — by stealing more than $1 million from the Archdiocese of New York.

Anita Collins, 67, was wearing a crucifix and handcuffs at her arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court for grand larceny and falsifying business records — charges that could send her to jail for up to 25 years if she is convicted.

The white-haired bookkeeper alternately prayed and glared at the news photographers as investigators laid out her alleged scam. She did not enter a plea and was ordered held on $750,000 bail.

“She held herself out to be a religious woman going to church every day,” said Assistant District Attorney Amy Justiniano said. “Yet, behind their backs she would lie and steal.”

And she spent lavishly on herself.

Collins, who was making $50,000 a year when she was canned, spent $18,000 of the ill-gotten gains on furniture at Bloomingdales, Justiniano said.

She also blew $23,000 on clothes at Barney’s, another $14,000 at Brooks Brothers, and $19,000 at an Irish gift shop.

And from inside her Bronx home, cops Monday carted off about 50 boxes — some filled with paintings and expensive dolls, neighbors said.

There was only one month during her employment at the archdiocese when she didn’t steal from the church, Justiniano said.

In December, church auditors confronted Collins about a missing $10,000 and “she fully confessed and she was fired,” Justiniano said.

But Collins said nothing about the rest of the approximately $1,073,000 she allegedly stole and “continued to lie” about the true scale of her thievery, Justiniano said.

Adding insult to injury, this is not the first time Collins has been accused of embezzling funds.

When she was hired in 2003, Collins did not disclose her previous arrests. Not long after she was put on the payroll, the archdiocese began conducting background checks for all new employees and for existing employees who worked with minors.

“It was just a happenstance of timing that she was hired just almost immediately before that program was instituted,” said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

Over in the the Throgs Neck section, Collins’ neighbors said she stood out for two reasons — she always took livery cabs to and from work, and because she was "very plain looking.”

“She didn't look like she belonged here,” said a 62-year-old neighbor. “She looked like she belonged on a farm or something. She didn’t dress fancy or anything like that. Just very plain looking.”

Prosecutors said Collins’ scam worked like this:

Collins issued

issued 468 checks over a seven year span to legitimate vendors for things like electricity of office supplies.

But she had the checks made out in the name of one of her sons K.B. Collins — and deposited the dough into her personal account.

Collins kept her bosses in the dark by keeping the amounts under $2,500 because anything above that would have required a supervisor's okay.

The scam Collins allegedly pulled at the archdiocese

appears to be a variation of one she pulled a decade ago while working at AccuStaff, a Manhattan temp agency.

Over a 16-month period, Collins stole $46,000 by issuing duplicate checks and cashing them with check-cashing cards she had issued to herself under various names, sources said.

Collins, who was arrested in June 1999, pleaded guilty to larceny and placed on five years’ probation. She also had to pay $10,000 in restitution to AccuStaff and complete 100 hours of community service.

Previously, Collins was arrested in January 1986 in the Bronx for criminal forgery and grand larceny. In that case, she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received three years’ probation, according to court papers.

Collins is accused of ripping off the archdiocese at a time when it has been shuttering schools and churches for lack of funds.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who is on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, has asked his flock for more than $15 million in an annual charity appeal.









Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.