Schoeneck Moravian Church treasurer charged with theft intended to pay back money, according to attorney

| August 17, 2010

The Schoeneck Moravian Church treasurer charged with stealing almost $116,000 from his church over three years was financially struggling and hoped to make enough money investing the stolen cash to pay off the church's mortgage, his defense attorney said today.

Dennis J. Solt, 60, of the 4600 block of Hillview Drive in Lower Nazareth Township, was charged in connection with the thefts Thursday. He is free after posting 10 percent of his $25,000 bail.

Solt, who has no prior criminal record, has already repaid $40,000 of the money and regrets his actions, his defense attorney Gail Marr said.

"He is very remorseful about the situation and never intended for it to happen," Marr said.

Solt's business tanked, he was struggling financially and he started using the money to help fund his day trading, she said. He intended on making a profit off the investments and paying back the money but it got out of hand, Marr said.

"He planned to return it and pay off the mortgage for the church property itself," Marr said. "He never intended to take money and keep it. It was always a matter of trying to increase it and return it."

The Upper Nazareth Township church discovered the thefts during an in-house audit in February, said church attorney Richard Santee, who serves as legal counsel for the Moravian Church.

Solt was immediately relieved of his duties and Santee contacted District Attorney John Morganelli to investigate. Before an audit was completed, Solt asked for a meeting with church officials and admitted to the thefts and promised restitution, Santee said.

Marr said her client isn't contesting the charges against him but may disagree with the amount of money the church says is missing.

In May a certified public accountant audited the church accounts and found Solt had issued 188 bank drafts to himself and recorded them as payments to a variety of people or businesses, according to court records. Solt was the church treasurer when the thefts occurred between Jan. 1, 2007, and Feb. 4, records say.

The congregation, which has about 400 adult members, wrestled with the situation, Santee said.

"It is a very difficult time. The church continues to be sympathetic to Mr. Solt and his family," Santee said. "On the other hand, we live in the real world and those who are in leadership in the church have a fiduciary responsibility. I think they have done their best to walk that tightrope between the sensibility of mercy and forgiveness and being accountable."

Santee noted he is not a member of the church but he believes the stolen money represents a significant piece of its annual budget. The church responded to the problem, members have rolled up their sleeves and gone back to work, Santee said.

Officials are exploring whether insurance could cover the loss, he said. The church did require two signatures on checks as a safeguard, but there was a threshold Solt managed to circumvent, Santee said.

Solt is charged with two counts of theft and a single count of receiving stolen property — third-degree felonies — and misapplication of entrusted property, a second-degree misdemeanor.

 

http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/nazareth/index.ssf/2010/08/post_11.html

 

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