Davis sentenced to probations in church money theft

| August 16, 2009

Crossroads Church in Chippewa Falls will get back the money stolen by a former church worker. That’s not always the case in an embezzlement crime, even if a court orders restitution by the defendant.

In this case, Heather Davis, who pled guilty to charges that she stole from the church, already had most of the money set aside in her attorney’s trust account when she appeared before Judge Jim Isaacson for sentencing Thursday.

Davis, 36, 806 W. Willow St., Chippewa Falls, was arrested in March, reportedly before leaving on a planned trip to Italy. It had just been discovered the month before that money was missing from accounts at Crossroads Church, 209 W. South Ave. An investigation found transfers of funds into her private account, and further investigation put the total missing at around $39,000.

That’s the amount that Davis, reportedly with the help of her family, managed to set aside in attorney Dave Raihle’s trust account as they negotiated with District Attorney Jon Theisen for a plea bargain in the case.

Isaacson accepted the deal as proposed: Davis pleaded guilty to a felony charge of theft of moveable property over $10,000 and five misdemeanor counts of theft. Isaacson deferred accepting the guilty plea on the felony charge. On the misdemeanor charges, he withheld sentence and placed Davis on probation for thee years. A condition of probation includes 60 days in jail, which Davis can avoid with eight hours of community service for every day of jail time.

After the $39,000 figure was arrived at, more funds were discovered missing, though it is unclear how much of that Davis was responsible for, according the Theisen. Davis was cooperative in determining the amount of restitution, he said.

“It would surprise everyone if she kept track of everything she took. If you are asking what the real number is, I have no idea,” Theisen said.

The parties settled on a figure of $42,000, which church leaders are comfortable with, Theisen said.

Isaacson ordered the $39,000 paid by Friday, with the remainder paid at $200 intervals. Raihle said the remainder would be paid in the next few months.

Any amount over the $42,000 the church would have to pursue through civil court.

“I would like to apologize to the church for violating the trust they placed in me, and to my family for causing them embarrassment,” Davis said, her voice breaking in a brief statement.

“You are exactly right; you have betrayed the trust of the church brethren,” Isaacson said. Such actions lead church-goers in the community to wonder where their contributions are going, he added. “People there thought they were giving to the greater good.”

After the sentencing, Theisen said getting the money back was a primary concern, but also sending a message.

“The church is put in a highly uncomfortable position of wanting to be judgmental, but still in the spirit of a church.”

The sentencing requires Davis’ participation in a restorative justice program if church leaders wish.

Other conditions of probation requires Davis to undergo a psychological evaluation, not leave Wisconsin or Minnesota, and not take a job with a financial responsibility.



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Category: Church Security

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