Church embezzler sentenced to year in jail
December 3, 2012
A former church bookkeeper and first grade teacher was sentenced Monday to a year in jail as part of her probation for embezzling more than $152,000 from the church over eight years.
District Judge Michael Gibbons sentenced Tracey L. Taylor, 45, of Carson City, to six years in Nevada state prison, suspended, and placed her on five years probation.
She is to pay $152,380.62 restitution to Corpus Christi Catholic Church at $1,000 per month, perform 200 hours of community service, and serve a year in Douglas County Jail.
In exchange for her guilty plea, charges will not be filed against Taylor by Carson City authorities for embezzlement which occurred while the church was located on the grounds of the old Stewart Indian School.
In 2009, the parish moved to property in northern Douglas County where Taylor was working when the embezzlement was discovered in January.
Taylor paid $5,000 of the restitution on Monday.
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The Rev. James Setelik, Corpus Christi pastor, testified Monday about the effect the crime had on the parish which he characterized as one of the poorest in the Reno diocese made up of working class parishioners.
“You might not think $152,000 over eight years is a lot of money. But our income is $180,000 a year. She has taken one-eighth of our income over the past eight years,” Setelik said.
Setelik said Taylor was altering computer records so the system would not show discrepancies. The case came to light when an NV Energy representative called Setelik to ask whether the church was paying parishioners’ utility bills.
“It was quite a fluke we found out,” he said.
Taylor worked 10 hours a week for the church.
He said church officials began reviewing payments and discovered “she (Taylor) had made a career stealing money from the church from the inception of her job” in 2004.
She taught for eight years at St. Teresa of Avila grade school in Carson City.
“This is money we really could have used,” Setelik said.
He said while the embezzlement was going on, Taylor was recommending cuts in parish programs because of church finances.
“We cut out gifts we distributed at Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and Christmas ornaments we gave to families,” he said.
He called Taylor’s crime well planned.
“Somebody was plotting this for eight years against a church that is financially strapped,” he said. “This is really a crime against the people of this parish; people who put donations in the collection basket every week.”
He said the crime tarnished the church’s reputation and put a halt to their capital campaign because people didn’t trust what would happen to their donations.
“My belief is that I think with a few months in jail she would really see what life is like when you commit a crime,” Setelik said.
The priest said he was pessimistic restitution would be paid in full.
Taylor apologized to Setelik, church officials, her family, friends and parishioners.
“I can’t justify what I did,” she sad. “I got caught up in living a life I couldn’t afford. I betrayed my friends and family. I will do whatever I need to make it right.”
Taylor’s attorney, Tod Young, said she used the money to pay bills and attempt to maintain a lifestyle she could not afford.
“Tracey tries to tell you how this came about,” Young said. “She can’t envision this herself. She said she never thought this was a long-term solution. She just found herself needing some money. She did the wrong thing. It became easier to do it the next time. If she were a thief at heart, she wouldn’t offer you an explanation.”
Investigators discovered 19 checks to Walmart totaling $13,789; 18 to Orchard Bank in City of Industry, Calif., for $11,087; and 16 checks to Merrick Bank in Hicksville, N.Y., all credited to Taylor’s accounts.
Prosecutor Karen Dustman said asked that Taylor be sentenced to a year in jail.
“She wanted to maintain a lifestyle … to which she was not entitled because she didn’t have the funds. She hurt the parish,” Dustman said.
In weighing her sentence, Gibbons said Taylor had no prior criminal history, was educated, remorseful, and had family support.
Gibbons said she seemed unlikely to reoffend.
He agreed that probation was appropriate rather than sending her to prison where she faced up to 10 years.
But he said the “intentional, repeated” aspects of the crime merited jail time.
“I think you knew this was coming,” Gibbons said. “It’s difficult to face, but you were very close to going to prison. Most people would not be getting probation.”
While on probation, Taylor must abstain from alcohol, controlled substances and gambling.