Episcopal priest charged with defrauding Kansas foster care organization of $10M

The exterior of the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters building in Washington, July 14, 2009. | Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

An Episcopal Church priest and a businessman were recently charged with allegedly defrauding a Kansas-based foster care organization of approximately $10 million.

A federal grand jury in Topeka indicted the Rev. Robert Smith of Salina and William Byrd Whymark of Mount Kisco, New York, for allegedly defrauding the Salina-based Saint Francis Ministries, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office of the District of Kansas.

Smith faces one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of money laundering and 15 counts of wire fraud. Whymark was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, three counts of money laundering and 10 counts of wire fraud.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating, while assistant U.S. attorneys Christine Kenney and Skipper Jacobs are prosecuting the case.

According to authorities, Smith used his position as chief executive officer of SFM to enter into an agreement on behalf of the ministry with a company owned by Whymark in 2018. From there, Smith allegedly authorized payments of overinflated, fraudulent invoices from Whymark.

Authorities accuse Smith of using SFM credit cards for expenditures that were of a personal and unauthorized nature.

Ordained in 2011, Smith served as CEO of SFM from 2014 until 2020, when the nonprofit's board reportedly compelled him to resign amid concerns about financial mismanagement.

Bishop Paula Clark, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, where Smith was a canonical resident, announced that Smith was suspended "from any and all priestly and ministerial duties." She ordered Smith to have "no direct access to credit cards, bank accounts, or any other funds held by the church."

"I will meet with the Rev. Smith regularly as these legal proceedings unfold to ensure his compliance with the terms of this suspension," stated Clark, as reported by Episcopal News Service.

"The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago takes allegations of clergy misconduct very seriously and cooperates fully with legal authorities."

Smith was suspended in 2020 following his departure from SFM. However, the suspension was lifted when an investigation into his activities could not find evidence of wrongdoing, reported ENS.

In response to the indictment, SFM issued a statement to the Omaha, Nebraska-based WOWT News saying that its leaders "appreciate the diligence exhibited in the pursuit of justice by all parties."

"As the case moves forward, Saint Francis will continue to work transparently and collaboratively with federal authorities as part of the investigative process," stated SFM.  

State Rep. Susan Concannon, a Republican who chairs the Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight, said during a meeting on Wednesday that SFM doesn't "deserve to continue a partnership with the state of Kansas in any capacity.” 

“I am horrified at the level of devious behavior by Saint Francis,” Concannon said, according to The Associated Press. “The more we find out, the more we realize we don’t know!" 

SFM filed a lawsuit aginst Smith, Whymark and its former chief counsel seeking to recover the stolen funds. 

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