Church secretary accused of stealing over $200000

| August 13, 2009

GREENCASTLE — A Greencastle woman was arrested late Tuesday afternoon in connection with alleged thefts of money from the church where she was employed.
Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said Melynda J. "Mindy" Fenwick, 37, is accused of stealing approximately $274,000 from Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church in Greencastle.

"These allegations were brought to the attention of the police by church officials who had uncovered the theft," said Bookwalter. "Any allegations involving stealing from a church is very disturbing."

A news release issued today by Gobin said Fenwick was placed on unpaid leave after her arrest. The release said the thefts were uncovered as during the church’s own auditing process.

"Mindy Fenwick was a valued employee for five years, so her arrest has obviously shocked and upset us," said church spokesman Jeff Hansen, who serves as lay leader of the congregation. "We’re carefully investigating exactly what happened. We’re working closely with authorities who are doing the same."

Greencastle Police Department Detective Capt. Randy Seipel said the investigation into the alleged thefts is still underway, and that no exact total of losses has been determined yet.

Hansen said church officials discovered bookkeeping discrepancies "just days ago." Seipel said church representatives contacted him on Monday.

"We followed up on the concern that was raised then alerted police," Hansen said. "It will take time to understand the full details of what happened, but it’s clear the policies and practices we had in place to prevent misuse of funds were circumvented."

A narrative prepared by Seipel said a member of the church’s auditing committee found two bank statements for the same date, and when the statements were crosschecked it was discovered that there was a $46,000 discrepancy.

The committee member then examined other statements, the narrative said, and found "numerous inconsistencies in the statements and that the type and printer color was different from the original statement she had discovered."

Seipel’s report said Fenwick admitted that she issued checks to herself and forged signatures on those checks.

"She further admitted that any check issued to her from the account in question was fraudulent," the report said. "She stated that there could be as many as 100 fraudulent, forged checks. She admitted that she clearly knew her actions weren’t authorized and that they were illegal. She admitted that this had been going on for upwards of three years."

Fenwick told Seipel she took the money to help her parents and take care of family members, and that she "had dug a hole she could not get out of."

Fenwick admitted to falsifying documents and produced a flash drive on which she stored those false documents, Seipel’s report said.

Seipel said Fenwick’s alleged thefts "may go back as far as 2005." He said it appeared as though she had been issuing checks to herself and signing another woman’s name to them.

Fenwick will face five counts of Class C felony forgery and six counts of Class D felony theft, Bookwalter said.

Gobin plans to bring in outside help to deal with the fallout of the alleged thefts.

"To find out precisely what occurred, as well as the extent of the loss and what steps we should take to prevent something like this from ever happening again, we plan to hire an independent auditor or accounting firm with expertise in this area," Hansen said. "We are concerned about both the financial loss and the potential loss of trust among the people who so generously support our ministry and mission. We are concerned about the effect of this incident on our congregation and even its implications for Mindy and her family. Our pastor, our staff, our leaders and, I hope every member, are committed to learning from this painful experience, correcting any problems and moving forward with God’s work."

Fenwick began serving as church secretary at Gobin in 2004.

Hansen said it would not be helpful to release more information or speculate on what additional steps will be taken without more facts and more time to digest them.

Fenwick is set to be arraigned in Putnam County Circuit Court Thursday at 9 a.m.

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Category: Church Security

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