Police: Employee stole over $10,000 from Columbia church

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COLUMBIA, Pa. — An administrative assistant at a church in Columbia is accused of stealing over $10,000 from her employer. Josetta Reese, 51, of Columbia, worked at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, located in the 400 block of Cherry Street in Columbia.

The Diocese of Harrisburg Contacted the Columbia Police Department in late May of 2015. The diocese reported the theft that was occurring at  Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

Following an internal investigation, the Diocese of Harrisburg identified Reese as being responsible for stealing in excess of $10,000.00 from the church. Reese was entrusted with handling and accounting for cash proceeds obtained by the church through various fundraisers and donations. Reese provided a statement to investigators where she admitted to stealing “at least $10,000” from Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

Reese is charged with Felony Theft by Unlawful Taking or Disposition. She was arraigned by District Judge Robert Herman and released on $5,000.00 unsecured bail pending a preliminary hearing.

The Harrisburg Diocese issued the following statement:

The Diocese of Harrisburg has worked closely with the Columbia Police Department and the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office regarding certain irregularities involving the embezzlement of parish funds by Josetta Reese, the former parish secretary at Holy Trinity Parish, Columbia, PA.

 

On or around March 27 of this year irregularities were noticed by the Diocese in Holy Trinity parish finances. An investigation was begun into the matter.  On May 7 Mrs. Reese was interviewed about the matter and a confession was secured.  She admitted to taking at least $10,000 over a period of years from the Sunday offerings and other parish financial sources. Mrs. Reese had worked for the parish since 2008.

 

After her admission to taking the funds, Mrs. Reese was placed on suspension. In keeping with the Diocesan zero tolerance policy toward financial malfeasance, the matter was reported to the Columbia Police Department and the Lancaster County Distinct Attorney’s Office for prosecution as warranted.  The Diocese will seek restitution of the stolen funds.

 

On Monday, June 22, 2015, Columbia Police Detective Matthew Leddy filed one count of Felony Theft by Unlawful Taking or Disposition against Josetta Reese.  Reese was arraigned by District Judge Robert Herman and released on $5,000.00 unsecured bail pending a preliminary hearing.

 

In an effort to better safeguard funds donated to the Church, the Diocese revised and strengthened fiscal policies, controls and guidelines in 2013. These enhanced financial procedures and controls have been implemented and enforced in the parishes and schools across the diocese.  They have served to increase awareness and accountability on the part of finance council members as well as pastors, principals and administrators.

 

At the local level, parishioners serving on finance councils and in the parish office are more involved in the financial administration of the parishes and are able to recognize potential problems and to question and/or report practices and activities which do not comply with Diocesan policies.

 

At the Diocesan level financial reviews of parishes and schools have substantially increased over the last few years. In addition, the Diocese has many tools at its disposal to identify and detect frauds and irregularities.  Some of these include the review of parish financial controls, data analytics, and even surveillance.  It is hoped that both the controls and detection efforts will serve as a deterrent to anyone considering misappropriating church funds now or in the future