Former Alabama church secretary pleads guilty to embezzling $209K

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The former financial secretary of an Alabama congregation has confessed to embezzling approximately $209,000 from the church over the course of several years.

Sharon Collins, who worked at First Baptist Church of Foley from 2007 to 2019, admitted in a recent plea agreement that she stole $209,745 via multiple church credit cards.

Collins admitted to using cards issued in both her name and the names of coworkers to steal the money and use it for expenses, satellite TV bills, plane trips and even a college degree, reported local media outlet WALA.

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U.S. District Judge Terry Moorer read out the 12 counts of wire fraud to Collins on Wednesday, with Collins pleading guilty to them all. Sentencing is scheduled for November.  

"I imagine, for you, this is embarrassing," Moorer told Collins, as quoted by WALA. "Even if you find this embarrassing, it's not the worst thing in the world someone has ever done, and you can live this down."

Although the plea agreement will result in the government dropping 20 other identity theft and wire fraud charges, Collins could still face up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the Mobile-based NBC 15 News.

The college degree she used church funds to pay for was a bachelor's degree in psychology and criminal justice at Troy University.

Collins reportedly began stealing money from the church in 2008. The criminal actions were not uncovered until years later when a new pastor and the finance committee realized that a savings account valued at around $100,000 had disappeared.

In July 2019, the church fired Collins, and the congregation turned the matter over to the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office and later the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Foley FBC Senior Pastor Drew Whittington said in a statement that the congregation is "grieved about what took place" but also "grateful for the work of law enforcement officials."

"We have taken the appropriate steps to uphold the ethical stewardship of God's household," stated Whittington, as quoted by WALA.

"This has been an unfortunate chapter in our history, but we are thankful to put it behind us and focus on being a healthy church that uses our resources to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

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