A church administrator has been charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft after stealing more than $360,000 from a California church she previously worked at.
A federal grand jury in Sacramento, California has charged Chanell Easton of Oklahoma City, a former administrator who worked at a church in Yuba City, with 22 counts of wire fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. The 36 year old former California church administrator is also the wife of a former police chief and was involved in a scheme to embezzle funds from the church.
U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said in a statement that Easton was employed at the California church from June 2013 to February 2018, during which she stole more than $360,000, including from the church's community food pantry and youth ministry.
"The purpose of the scheme and artifice to defraud was to obtain, convert, and spend money belonging to [the California church], without the authorization and knowledge of the church treasurer and governing body, for unauthorized personal purposes that did not benefit [the church]," the indictment said, as per the Christian Post.
Administrator Used Church Credit Cards and Accounts for Personal Purchases
According to the court papers, Easton allegedly secretly opened five business credit card accounts in the California church's name and used one credit card of the church's youth pastor for personal purchases. The church administrator used the credit card to pay for services at the hair salon, items from online retailers, and vacation rental services. She also supposedly used the card to purchase concert tickets worth more than $900. Later, Easton would pay off the balance using the church's money.
Moreover, Easton allegedly transferred money from the church's bank accounts to her own personal account. The church administrator also paid the balance of her personal credit card and cellphone provider for her personal bills for new phones using the church's funds. According to investigators, Easton wrote checks to others for personal expenses and to herself by forging the signatures of the church's treasurer or head volunteer of the church's food pantry.
Church Administrator Faces Grave Punishment for Embezzlement
If found guilty for her crimes, Easton will face a 20 year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine for each count of wire fraud. The former California church administrator also faces a mandatory two-year sentence on each count of aggravated identity theft, Fox 40 reported.
While court papers did not disclose the name of the church that was victimized by Easton, The Appeal-Democrat reported that she worked at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Yuba City. Easton was also formerly married to former Marysville, California, Police Department Chief Aaron Easton.
Church embezzlement is common in the U.S. In fact, researchers found that up to 80% of all cases of church fraud are actually unreported, Brotherhood Mutual reported. Worldwide church financial fraud is also expected to reach the $80 billion mark by 2025.