Church embezzler sentenced to house arrest

| July 13, 2010

GULFPORT — A single mother with leukemia will serve a year under house arrest for embezzling nearly $156,000 from First Baptist Church of Long Beach over a period of about three years.

Circuit Judge Lisa Dodson sentenced Michelle Calliham on Monday after the 37-year-old woman entered a guilty plea. The judge gave her the maximum penalty of 10 years but suspended nine years. allowing the state Department of Corrections to monitor Calliham through home confinement. After a year, she will be on probation for three years.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Burrell said a restitution hearing will be held at a later date.

Calliham became the church bookkeeper in the fall of 2006. Long Beach police arrested her on the embezzlement charge on Sept. 15, 2009. At the time, Calliham’s children were 2, 16 and 18.

Calliham admitted spending the money on medical treatment and to support her family, Burrell said.

But if the case had gone to trial, prosecutors were prepared to present evidence showing Calliham also spent her ill-gotten gains on entertainment including a couple of vacations to Louisiana and a couple to Florida, Burrell said.

The Rev. Larue Stephens told the court the embezzlement was hurtful to the church and created an extreme hardship, Burrell added.

In addition to paying her salary, the church and individual members had given Calliham money to help pay for medical treatment, provided free day- care services and had done some work for free on her house on Todd Terrace, Burrell added.

“Her health is not in as dire a condition as it once was,” Burrell said. “Her treatment now involves getting periodic blood tests to check her white blood-cell count.”

Calliham told the Sun Herald last fall her parents had refinanced their home to help pay her medical bills but instead spent the money on a $50,000 bond to get her out of jail.

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Category: Church Security

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