A Pennsylvania church that wanted to see “greater punishment” for a former treasurer who pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $400,000 from their coffers is now grieving after she was sentenced to just 10 years of probation for her crime.
The former treasurer, Melanie Lee Kummerer, 56, of Calvary Lutheran Church in Reading, pleaded guilty to one count of theft by unlawful taking and three counts of forgery, according to court documents cited by the Reading Eagle.
Kummerer pleaded guilty on June 7 before Berks County Judge Patrick T. Barrett. The former treasurer was also ordered to pay restitution but the church’s interim pastor, the Rev. Lauren Wolfe Blatt, told the publication she wasn’t sure if Kummerer, who forged more than 200 checks, would be able to repay the stolen money.
"I think overall our congregation is really grieving," Blatt told the Reading Eagle. "They wanted to see a greater punishment for such a large crime."
She explained that for congregants, Kummerer’s theft was more than just about money.
The Berks County District Attorney's Office stated that a representative of the church first reported they had been the victim of a financial crime on July 24, 2019. An investigation showed that Kummerer was appointed to the position of Central Treasurer of the Calvary Lutheran Church in January 2009 and she received an annual stipend of $2,503. She held that post until she resigned on Feb. 25, 2019.
During that period, Kummerer managed and kept the church’s financial records at her home.
When the church got a new senior pastor, the Rev. Drew Neidig, in August 2018, the leadership raised concerns about the church’s finances. After the new pastor’s first financial meeting in October 2018, he asked Kummerer to provide a balance sheet and income statement at all future meetings. She failed to do that during the church’s next two financial meetings and the police were contacted.
A forensic audit showed Kummerer forged more than 200 checks between 2009 and 2019, totaling approximately $391,444.03.
Neidig explained that while Kummerer was busy stealing from the church the church was struggling to pay its bills.
“It put us in a very tough financial position. We were often behind in paying our bills and it’s because we did not have the money,” Neidig said at the time. One of things that the church and other nonprofits do is assume that everyone is trustworthy and therefore they don’t have good financial controls in place and that certainly was the case here because we assumed people were trustworthy, and we didn’t have proper checks and balances.”
Blatt noted on Monday that because Kummerer’s theft impacted a community in need the light sentence she received is harder to digest.
"When we think about it as just money, we can minimize it," Blatt said. "But when we think about it as peoples' hard-earned contributions to the church, it's harder to swallow.
"We are a congregation that's active and moving," she said. "We are a congregation that uses the money we have to serve God's people. We are sad that we won't see the $400,000 she stole."