Bought a shovel so I could bury Mom
“You used the church credit card for personal expenses?” “Yeah – I needed to buy a shovel so I could bury my mother in the yard…”
Maria Lutz was the church treasurer for ten years, and also took care of the bookkeeping. She had church credit cards, too.
One day the church received a $3000 overdue bill from Lowe’s, which was somewhat of a surprise to them.
On investigation they discovered that they had 78 pages of Lowe’s receipts just for that year… purchases by the treasurer for personal items including an air conditioner and a lawnmower. She also used a church credit card to pay her bills and to buy a cow for butchering. All told, the church was out $38,000.
But more was going on than just the embezzlement: she lived with her mother, an elder in the church. Nobody had seen the mother for several months, and inquiries about her were met with evasive responses. The body was discovered on the same day as the embezzlement. Turns out the treasurer had buried mom in the yard so she would continue to receive her Social Security checks.
The primary rule for financial procedures is to make sure that the person handling the money can’t cover their tracks. The common way you hear that stated is, “Don’t let the fox guard the henhouse.” Here, the person who kept the books for the church was given access to the church money through credit cards. Since she was keeping the books, she could cover her actions.
And nobody was watching. Over three or four years, it appears that nobody looked at the credit card statements.
How To Prevent This At Your Church
- Ensure that the person keeping the books has no access to church money;
- Mail the statements to the pastor or other senior church person for a ‘smell check’ before processing. This person should look for odd entries such as unknown vendors, inappropriate vendors (for example, Victoria’s Secret or liquor stores – you think I’m joking: these come from an actual case), and cash withdrawals or odd amounts.
Consider our church audit service – it’s easy and surprisingly affordable. We help find holes in financial procedures and tell you how to plug them.
- Your church’s chief money person answers a bunch of questions online
- He or she fields questions out to others as needed;
- All the answers are reviewed by the church staff, elders, and deacons (and corrected as necessary);
- We produce a book showing what is being done well and what could be improved.
- The book also includes a ‘best practices’ section and a plan to do it all with the minimum number of people;
- We print copies of the book for the pastor and each board member, and meet by video conference to discuss implementation.