A volunteer church secretary from New Jersey was arrested Tuesday after she was accused of bilking a local Baptist church of nearly $600,000 to pay for her car, rent, wedding and thousands of online purchases made through Paypal and Amazon.
The secretary, Taisha D. Smith-DeJoseph, 43, of Willingboro was charged with theft by deception, computer criminal activity, misapplication of entrusted property and other related offenses, NBC Philadelphia reported.
A volunteer at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Florence Township, New Jersey, Smith-DeJoseph, who oversaw the church’s finances, allegedly embezzled some $561,000 from 2014 through March 2019 and splurged on her personal expenses.
“People put their hard-earned money in the church and really expect for it to be taken care of,” Rev. Fred Jackson, who leads the more than century-old church, told CBS Philly.
“It’s very hurtful for the entire congregation and we’ve been going through it for several months now and what else can I say? It was devastating. We’d like to believe that we as Christians are trusting. We put our trust in other people as well as in God, and sometimes that trust is misplaced.”
Smith-DeJoseph allegedly left the church accounts in a negative balance 510 times in seven years and made 2,718 PayPal purchases adding up to more than a quarter of a million dollars, plus 805 Amazon purchases totaling more than $22,000, ABC News reported. She also wrote herself 181 unauthorized checks for more than $182,000.
According to subpoenaed documents cited by USA Today, Smith-DeJoseph’s alleged spending included:
· $4,720 of payments to DISH Network
· 2,718 transactions totaling $266,600 on PayPal
· 805 purchases totaling $22,800 on Amazon
· $5,840 worth of purchases on ASOS.com
· $3,640 of payments to Verizon
· $7,520 of payments to GM Financial for a car loan
· $8,270 to Gateway One Lending for another car loan
· $2,510 to Geico Insurance
· $2,830 to Comcast
A release from the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office said the investigation into Smith-DeJoseph began after officials from St. Paul’s Baptist Church contacted the BCPO Financial Crimes Unit over suspicion of theft.
In addition to her spending online, Smith-DeJoseph was found to have issued payroll and supply reimbursement checks to herself from St. Paul’s bank accounts. She also fabricated monthly statements to hide the church’s true financial state.
Smith-DeJoseph also failed to file income tax returns for 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018 in an attempt to hide the embezzlement scheme from the government. In 2017, she filed a fraudulent tax return and from 2014 through 2018, she failed to pay the appropriate amount of taxes.
A man who said he is Smith-DeJoseph's brother told CNN affiliate KYW that he wasn't aware of the allegations and insisted on her innocence.
"I know my sister and she would never do no (expletive) like that," said the man who was not identified.
The case will now be prepared for presentation to a Burlington County Grand Jury for possible indictment. Smith-DeJoseph will be prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutor Andrew R. McDonnell, supervisor of the Financial Crimes Unit.