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Baptist Press reports that in 2010, the Morristown church learned that $147,000 presumably sent to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions had not been received by the International Mission Board. Further investigation revealed that five payments (approximately $120,000) budgeted by the church to the Tennessee Baptist Convention for the Cooperative Program missions and ministry had not been received there. First Baptist also discovered checks stashed away in a drawer that had been written to pay bills. The issue revolved around the trust placed in former financial secretary Barbara Whitt. “Our people had grown up with her. She was like an institution here,” pastor Dean Haun said. The church employed a forensic auditor to examine how long the embezzlement had been occurring. The audit discovered that more than $1.5 million had been diverted from the church over a period of several years. Whitt later confessed that she had written more than 1,600 checks to herself, totaling $1,514,593, in what is considered the largest theft ever in Hamblen County. In addition to Whitt’s arrest, her son Michael was charged as a co-conspirator. Both Whitt and her son were sentenced in October to roughly four years in prison. With all that behind them, Haun believes First Baptist has grown from the financial adversity. Looking back, Haun believes the church was able to overcome what happened because its leaders were open and honest from the outset about what happened. When Haun and church leaders learned what the Whitts had done and the story was about to break in the local paper, a special meeting of the church was held on Tuesday night prior to the release of the story. “We needed to be up front and honest with the church. We shared with the church everything we knew that night,” Haun said. Church members could have decided to find another church or quit giving, Haun said, or they could band together “and see God do a miracle in our midst.” One member stood up and said, “I am not going to let the enemy have the victory. I am going to give twice as much.” The church applauded, Haun recounted. The special meeting “ended up being more of a revival”; it was evident the church would rally, Haun said, and it did. Read more here…
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A former rector at St. Stephens Church in Colorado Springs is in big trouble… accused of stealing $392,000 from the church treasury. Rev. Donald Armstrong’s reasoning in court this week?  Well… he did use church funds to pay for his two kid’s college tuitions, but he did so in lieu of getting any pay raises for several years. In other words… you didn’t give me a pay raise, so I just paid my kids college bill instead. He said that all the checks were made to “Tuition Management Systems, and that the purpose of those checks should have been obvious. And each check needed to be signed by Armstrong and someone else from the church. Here’s an interesting exchange from the Gazette.com: Wasn’t it obvious that the checks were going for tuition? Hartley [Armstrong’s attorney] asked the detective. “Yet not one warden who co-signed on these checks ever questioned what this was for?” he asked. “I suppose the senior warden was depending upon the rector to be honest,” Flynn [the detective] replied. “And my investigation showed that Mr. Armstrong was not.” Mistake #1:  Armstrong signing checks Mistake #2:  The church trusting Armstrong and not having any financial accountability. Sound strikingly familiar to this story yesterday? Come on, people… have some common sense. Read more here.
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Current Events
Barbara Whitt headed the generosity ministry at First Baptist Church of Morristown, TN.  Only thing was, she was being generous with herself. A mother and son pleaded guilty in federal court Feb. 19 to stealing more than $1.5 million from a Southern Baptist church where the mother worked for 47 years. Barbara Whitt, 69, and Michael Whitt, 43, pleaded guilty in U.S. district court to bank fraud and money laundering related to funds embezzled from First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn. According to the Morristown Citizen Tribune, the pair remain free on bond until their sentencing is set in July. A widow and trusted financial secretary of the 1,800-member church, Whitt was accused of writing 1,647 checks to herself between January 2008 and April 2010. She was arrested in May, after a church audit found $500,000 was missing. via Associated Baptist Press – Mother, son confess to stealing church funds. WOW.  Over 1600 checks to herself in 28 months.  That’s over 50 checks per month.  written. to. herself. Can that be right? And the audit found $500k missing?  Wonder if they also found the 1,647 checks WRITTEN. TO. HERSELF. And I’m surprised that this didn’t raise a red flag at the church. This could quiet possibly be the worst case of financial oversight I’ve ever seen in a church. But, then again… I guess… who would ever suspect sweet 69 year old Barbara, who’d been working at the church for 47 years, would do a thing like that? The truth… it shouldn’t have mattered.  SOMEONE besides Barbara or her son should have been having checks and balances (pun intended) over the church books. What safeguards does your church have in place to make sure this doesn’t happen?
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