Former secretary charged with torching church

| October 8, 2010

Ex-secretary held in church fire, theft

A former secretary is accused of setting fire in 2006 to the Pike County church where she worked in what investigators say was the last in a series of incidents intended to cover up thefts or attempted thefts.

Tiina Karen Alnick, 46, of 17 Cramer Creek Drive, Honesdale, was arrested Wednesday by state police at Blooming Grove on arson and other charges in the fire at Paupack United Methodist Church on Route 507 in Tafton. She is also accused of stealing $3,238 in cash from the church, along with $330 in personal checks and $40 worth of postage stamps.

The church sustained nearly $14,000 in damage in the fire on June 26, 2006. State police and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigators concluded the fire was arson, police said.

At the time of the fire, Ms. Alnick was the church's administrative secretary, a job she had held since May 2005.

According to the arrest affidavit filed by Trooper Mark Pizzuti, the church experienced a series of incidents in the eight months prior to the fire, many of them reported by Ms. Alnick.

Some were mischievous in nature, but others were criminal, police said. They included the theft of petty cash, a laptop computer and other items on Nov. 1, 2005; the theft of about $3,000 from the church safe on Jan. 24, 2006, and a bomb threat on May 22, 2006.

"The clear motive in all cases was to steal money and other property from the church, while deflecting suspicion and blame away from the defendant," the affidavit said.

In response to the incidents, the church installed a video surveillance system in the church office.

On the morning of the fire, which was reported by Ms. Alnick, the church had about $5,000 in its safe, representing the collection from its 100th anniversary service the day before, police said. Investigators determined the fire originated in the pastor's office in the immediate area of the video surveillance recorder, which was burned.

Ms. Alnick resigned shortly after the fire, and no incidents have been reported at the church since, police said.

In November 2008, the ATF laboratory was finally able to extract images from the damaged recorder that showed Ms. Alnick entered the pastor's office 35 seconds before the device stopped recording, police said. She called 911 to report the fire more than 20 minutes later.

Ms. Alnick was charged with arson, criminal mischief, institutional vandalism and theft by unlawful taking. She was released on her own recognizance pending a preliminary hearing Tuesday.

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