Deborah Marcellus Found Guilty of Embezzling Over $800K from Her Church

Marcellus could be facing a 20-year prison term

Deborah Marcellus was found guilty of illegally siphoning away about $818,000 through 200 fraudulent checks. The 63-year-old, who held the position of director of development at Rice Lake's St. Joseph Catholic Church, was indicted on two counts: filing of incorrect income tax return and wire fraud. She stole the money over a period of six years, from 2011 to 2017. The investigation was carried out by Rice Lake Police Department, the IRS, Diocese of Superior, and St. Joseph's Church itself. The prosecution was managed by Aaron Wegner, the Assistant U.S. Attorney.

Marcellus took criminal advantage of her position in the St. Joseph Catholic Church. She was responsible for managing all accounting and financial matters related to church activities. She used computer software to create checks favoring herself from church funds. The money was diverted to multiple accounts. She also forged names of multiple church leaders on the checks' signature lines. The financial instruments were then deposited into her own personal bank account. The money was spent on personal expenses. Bank records show most of the money was gambled away. James Peterson, the U.S. District Judge, scheduled the sentencing for October 2. Marcellus could face 20 years inside a federal prison.

Marcellus is not alone when it comes to defrauding the church. Carol Jean Pagett, a treasurer of a small Des Moines church in Iowa, spent a lavish $59,000 on personal items. The money belonged to the church. She held the position of treasurer for about 11 years at the time she was arrested in 2016.

Pagett was so trusted by the church congregation that she was the only person responsible to manage the Des Moines church funds. She misled the church leaders to believe that the church could be forced to close down due to financial hardship. They took her advice and made drastic cuts to the church budget. Health insurance benefits were slashed for church employees. Several church members even went the extra mile to donate extra money. Financial conditions, however, did not improve. The church leaders then took the decision to go through the church bank statements. The results shocked them. The church treasurer was sentenced to about 80 hours community service in addition to repaying all the embezzled money. Another example of fraudsters in the church is Susan Combs Pratt of Living Waters Full Gospel Church located in Hazard, Kentucky.

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