Bentleyville: Former church worker sentenced to probation

| September 3, 2009

BENTLEYVILLE — Former St. Martin’s Episcopal Church children’s ministeries director Ruth Lewis has been sentenced to two years’ probation for stealing $66,404 from the church. She must make full restitution and also pay a $10,000 fine.

Lewis, 61, of Solon was charged June 1 in U.S. District Court in Akron and pleaded guilty June 9 to fraud and uttering forged securities.

According to church officials and court documents, Lewis was charged with two felony counts for using $49,267.58 from St. Martin’s Key Bank account to pay off her own bills and writing five checks, totalling $14,300, from the church’s Huntington Bank account.

This occured between May, 2005 and July, 2007.

Another mystery at the church remains unsolved — an arson fire at the church on July 13, 2007.

It was at 8:45 p.m. that night that four fire departments responded to a 9-1-1 call from the Rev. Howard Humphrey that the church was on fire.

The fire that night was confined mostly to the library and office areas but the rest of the church had smoke damage. But that wasn’t the only fire at the church in July, 2007.

Just before 7 p.m. July 16, 2007, there were multiple calls from passing motorists, as well as from church members who had been meeting in the church’s exterior courtyard, that the church was on fire again.

This time, the fire spread and nearly gutted the Burroughs community Room, the attic, and the small chapel, creating extensive smoke damage throughout the building.

The state fire marshal had already declared the original July 13 fire an "arson." The state then turned the matter over to the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms division.

To date, both the ATF and the state fire marshal tell Channel 3 that the arson "remains an open case and under investigation" and no one has been charged.

The Episcopal Diocese of Ohio’s insurance has covered $2.85 million of the $3.2 million cost of rebuilding.

No one answered calls at Lewis’s home.

Church Junior Warden Rob Ware, an attorney, said that Lewis resigned "sometime in late 2007."

"As part of the (federal) fire investigation, there was a review of the church’s books and that’s when the problems with the accounts was discovered," Ware said.

In addition to the arson, there is also an open case of theft from the church that dates back to February, 2007.

Bentleyville Police Chief Tim Pitts said that the theft of Lewis’s computer, a computer hard drive, a computer monitor, a clock radio and two digital cameras from the locked church offices has not been closed.

The police report shows that there was no forced entry into the church and that the theft occured between 11 a.m. Feb. 3, 2007, and 8 a.m. Feb. 4, 2007.

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Category: Church Security

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