Probation for woman, 80, who stole from New Port Richey church

| September 28, 2009

NEW PORT RICHEY — Earla Ferguson’s crime was a monetary one.

She had access to a lot of money that wasn’t hers. When tough times hit, authorities say, she helped herself.

But here’s what made the crime about more than just money: Ferguson, who is 80 and walks with a cane, stole from her church.

"It’s just kind of hard for everyone to believe," Kathleen Aylward, who knew Ferguson at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Charles Street in New Port Richey, said in court Friday.

Ferguson, of 10740 Central Park Ave., was treasurer of the church’s women’s group for nine years. When she was arrested in May, police said she had skimmed more than $44,000 from the group’s accounts, writing checks for cash and to herself.

She pleaded guilty to a single charge of scheme to defraud, a second-degree felony. Circuit Judge Michael Andrews sentenced her Friday to 15 years of probation, sparing her any prison time and an adjudication of guilt, which would formally brand her a felon.

The judge worried that the felon status might cause Ferguson to lose her Social Security benefits and leave her unable to pay the restitution.

Ferguson told Andrews she always hoped to pay the money back but never could.

"I’m very sorry for what has happened, and I’m also sorry for the loss of friendship," she said, adding that the incident has left her isolated.

The judge said that should be no surprise.

"You really should not feel like any kind of victim if they don’t want to associate with you," Andrews told her.

Florence Holden, another church member, spoke too. She summed up the effect of Ferguson’s crime this way:

"I just feel very betrayed. I feel very saddened that these events have happened. God be with her and her family."

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Category: Church Security

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