Church secretary gets three years for embezzlement

| August 22, 2010

Ann Carson was more than a church secretary. To the members of North Presbyterian Church, she was a friend and confidant. They trusted her with their feelings — and their offerings.

Over the past decade, Carson pocketed more than $364,000 of their money.

For that, she’ll spend the next three years in prison.

“Our church loved Ann and felt she loved us in return,” the Rev. Scott Skogen said Friday in La Crosse County Circuit Court. “She embezzled money that could have done so much good.”

Carson stole more than $85,000 of donations made in memory of loved ones, the pastor said, as well as money for local and international charities. The theft was discovered after a church member attempted a financial audit in 2009. An external audit showed Carson had been writing checks to herself and falsifying the books.

Skogen, who has known Carson for more than 20 years, said it is difficult to request justice for someone who has been a friend.

“I knew today, whatever happened, there was going to be no sense of joy for us,” he said after Carson’s sentencing. “I hurt for our church, and I hurt for Ann.”

District Attorney Tim Gruenke said Carson was a manipulative person who looked her victims in the eye even as she stole from them and also took $40,000 from a trust for her brother.

“That’s a pretty hard heart, to steal from a church and your own family,” Gruenke said.

Carson, 47, sobbed as she apologized to a courtroom of her family and church members.

“I can only imagine the pain the congregation is feeling,” she said. “And for that, I’m so very sorry.”

Her attorney argued her behavior was fueled by a borderline personality disorder and fear of abandonment.

“It can’t be that simple,” La Crosse County Circuit Judge Ramona Gonzalez said.

Carson showed remorse only at being caught, Gonzalez said, not for a decade of betrayed trust.

In 16 years on the bench, only once before had she handed down a prison sentence purely as punishment, Gonzalez said.

“The breaking of a trust is something the law has no power to replace,” Gonzalez said. “You have to pay and you don’t have the money. The only thing I can take from you … is your time and your freedom.”

Carson’s sentence includes 15 years on extended supervision and requires her to put a quarter of her earnings toward repaying the entire $364,418.12.

Carson hugged family members before being taken into custody. The longest embrace came from Skogen.

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