Why do these bags have serial numbers?
Juan Garza-Gonzalez, 51, was the priest and pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in South Hutchinson, KS,. He started in June of 2018. A month later, the donations started to drop. They dropped a lot.
The parish was using tamper-evident plastic bags. And the filled bags were properly initialed by the priest and stored in the safe. But these were the less expensive bags, which did not have serial numbers on them. Nobody thought that was particularly important…
Father Garza thought it was OK, too. But that was because he was opening the bags in private. He would pocket some of the money, and re-seal the rest into new bags – with his initials, of course.
Some members were puzzled by the dramatic drop in donations. Especially as the decrease came just after Father Garza arrived. They placed some marked ‘bait money’ in the collection on a Sunday morning. Later, when the collection was counted, these particular bills were not present. The law was called in.
Determining the amount of money he took was difficult, of course, as the numbers never hit the books. But the state asked the court to award $8,812 in restitution.
Law enforcement also discovered something else of interest. Two of Father Garza’s previous churches had also had money taken. But those cases were handled internally.
Father Garza pleaded guilty to stealing from the church. He appeared before the court wearing his clerical collar. He was removed from his post and was reassigned as an assistant pastor in a different town. link
This scheme is called “skimming” – the thief steals the money before it ever hits the books. This makes it hard to determine how much was stolen. Of interest in this case was that the church was using tamper-evident plastic bags. Half-credit for a good try! But they didn’t know how to us them.
The “hole” in procedures here was that they bought the cheaper bags, which had no serial number on them (or they bought the ones WITH serial numbers, but paid no attention to them – the report didn’t say).
Here, the thief was able to take money and seal it in another bag and nobody was the wiser.
How To Prevent This At Your Church
Do background checks, including telephone calls to previous churches. This can be awkward if the denomination or diocese appoints clergy. But if your church is looking for a pastor – have the search committee check references!
Tamper-evident plastic bags are a great tool, and your church should be using them. Here’s how to use them:
- Two or more people take up the collection, and never is one of these individual out of sight with the money.
- Those who collect the money put it into a tamper-evident plastic bag, and tear off the serial number stub. Each bag has a number, and the stub has the same number on it. The photo below shows the stub, though the perforations are hard to make out.
- Hand the stub to one of the people who will be counting the money later. And this person does NOT have the combination to the safe.
- Place the sealed tamper-evident plastic bag containing the cash into the safe.
- When the time comes to count the money, retrieve the bag from the safe. Then check the serial number on the bag against the one on the stub.
- If the bag is intact and the serial numbers match, you’re good to go! If the bag is damaged or the serial numbers don’t match… start looking for a thief!
Bags like this cost 15-21 cents on eBay. And they have the serial number tear-off stubs. Use ’em!
- Your church’s chief money person answers a bunch of questions online
- He or she fields questions out to others as needed
- Others review the answers and make any necessary corrections.
- We produce a book showing what is being done well and what to improve.
- The book also includes a ‘best practices’ section and a plan to do it all with the fewest number of people
- We print copies of the book for the pastor and each board member
- We then meet by video conference to discuss implementation