Ex-pastor’s embezzling charge leads to closing of charity

| March 1, 2010

JOHNSTOWN — Thomas A Croyle was a trusted volunteer.

A former Mennonite church pastor, Croyle was heavily involved with two local charities.

He was treasurer for Bridge of Hope, a Johnstown ministry that mentored women.

He was entrusted with a similar position with St. Francis Sharing and Caring Inc. in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County.

Croyle’s ministry work ended after he was charged last week with embezzling more than $83,000 from both charities, forcing one to close.

“We had to dismantle the organization after the incident,” said Paula Newman, former Bridge of Hope board president.

“What saddens all of us the most is we put our trust in someone you would expect to trust,” she said.

“It really hit a lot of us on a personal and emotional level. We were all trying to help those less fortunate.”

Croyle, 45, of the 2700 block of Carpenters Park road, faces multiple counts of theft by deception, theft by unlawful taking, failure to make required deposits and receiving stolen property.

He also is charged with forgery and tampering with records. Croyle is out on bond awaiting his next court date.

A telephone at his residence went unanswered.

There are no statistics on the number of organizations left to deal with the fallout of members stealing money, but state officials say it happens far too frequently. When it happens to a charity it can be especially devastating for its members and clients.

“It seems it’s more of a violation of our trust when it happens to a charity,” said Tracy McCurdy, director of the state bureau of charitable organizations.

“Unfortunately, the people we trust the most are sometimes the people we have to watch most,” she said.

For Bridge of Hope, trust was a fatal flaw.

Trust violated

At the time, the charity rented space in a church being managed by the YWCA, 531 Somerset St.

The charity included a team mentoring approach to single women helping them in child rearing and finding homes and jobs, Newman said.

Bridge of Hope was up and running in 2005 and had two clients. One client withdrew from the program and the other – a single mother – went on to find a job and regain custody of her children.

“We were very successful at that point,” Newman said. “That client we did serve was a success story.”

The dedicated members soon found they were unable to build on that success.

Croyle was treasurer from May 2005 until June 2008.

Johnstown police accused Croyle of taking money by endorsing checks, made payable to cash, forging Newman’s name on checks and withdrawing money using a Bridge of Hope ATM card.

But Newman said all seemed fine.

Croyle routinely provided board members with financial reports.

“We had the reports that were necessary,” she said. “Everything jived.”

Croyle told police of his misdeeds after board members grew suspicious about the lack of money in the charity’s account.

Croyle apparently attempted to pay back some of the money before he was caught.

An audit by Wessel & Co. showed Croyle deposited $30,029 into the Bridge of Hope account, resulting in a net loss of $34,455, police said.

“He had a well thought out plan,” Newman said. “The bottom line is this whole thing impacted a lot of people. The people who supported us their trust was violated and our trust was violated.”

Croyle allegedly tried a similar scheme while working with St. Francis Caring and Sharing Inc., 124 Stevens Lane. The organization runs a food pantry and gives cash assistance to those in need.

Croyle allegedly diverted $18,615 in a dummy account he had established in 2007.

A representative of the charity was unavailable to discuss what impact Croyle’s actions had on the ministry.

Taking precautions

McCurdy said there are steps organizations can take to protect themselves from theft:

• Never sign a blank check.

• Don’t sign a check without proper documentation – invoice, receipt, etc.

• Checks should require two signatures with both people seeing documentation.

•  If one person maintains the checkbook, another person should receive the bank statements.

“Dealing with other people’s money is a great responsibility,” McCurdy said.

Newman, executive director of Beginnings Inc. in Johnstown, said despite the theft, Bridge of Hope made a life-changing impact on the life of a young mother.

“At the end of the day we feel good about the success we had and no one can take that away,” she said.



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Category: Church Security

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