Employee steals $1 million from Archdiocese of New York

.- An Archdiocese of New York employee allegedly stole about $1 million from the archdiocese’s Department of Education Finance Office in a “sophisticated fraud” over several years’ time.

Anita Collins, an employee of the archdiocese since 2003, was fired on Dec. 6, 2011 when the alleged fraud was discovered.

The archdiocese and outside auditors discovered the theft after new oversight controls and safeguards were implemented in 2011, archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling said Jan. 30.

The theft was initially believed to be at least $350,000, but an investigation from the Manhattan District Attorney determined the new estimate.

“The Archdiocese will continue to cooperate fully with the District Attorney’s office in its investigation, and is grateful to the District Attorney for the sensitive yet thorough way that the investigation has been conducted,” Zwilling said.

Collins, 67, allegedly billed the archdiocese for non-existent services and moved the money into accounts she controlled, the New York Times reports. She kept the checks under $2,500, as the low amount did not require approval from a supervisor.

She issued over 450 checks to herself over a seven-year period, an official with the Manhattan district attorney’s office told the Times.

The official, chief of investigations Adam Kaufmann, said most of the money was spent on mortgage payments and “a lifestyle that was not extravagant but was far beyond her lawful means.”

Zwilling said the scheme diverted money for helping students receive a Catholic education.

Collins has a previous conviction of grand larceny. In June 1999 she was arrested on charges that she stole at least $46,000 from a Manhattan temporary employment agency where she worked as a payroll manager. She was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution.

She pled guilty to a misdemeanor after a January 1986 arrest in the Bronx on multiple counts of criminal forgery and grand larceny.

Collins’ past convictions went unnoticed because she was hired before the archdiocese began regular criminal background checks on all its employees, Zwilling told the New York Times. The archdiocese now conducts these background checks.

Zwilling’s Jan. 30 statement said the archdiocese seeks to be “good stewards” of the money entrusted to it and is “continually working to improve our financial controls in order to prevent such occurrences from happening.”

The archdiocese notified the Archdiocesan Finance Council at the time the theft was discovered.

“Sadly, there will always be individuals who seek to exploit and circumvent whatever system is established, but we will remain vigilant in our oversight,” Zwilling said.

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