Iowa bishop tells churches to review accounting practices after $274K stolen from congregation

Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema
Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema

A Methodist bishop has called on churches within the denomination to review their accounting and financial practices after a member of a congregation stole approximately $274,000 from a local church.

Bishop Laurie Haller, head of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church, released a statement on Monday in response to the theft of $274,000 from a local congregation.

“I am writing to address an unpleasant and uncomfortable topic: fraud and embezzlement in one of our beloved churches in the Iowa Conference,” stated Haller.

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“I encourage you to review your church’s procedures for counting offerings, accounting for donations, authorizing expenditures, reconciling accounts, and financial reporting. Review your safeguards against embezzlement and fraud.”

The bishop went on to say that she believes “having good internal controls helps protect the reputations of people who handle the funds.”

“Good internal control procedures indicate that you care about the church’s ministry and the people who support it with their prayers, labor, and money. It shows that accountability, responsibility, and transparency are important,” continued Haller.

“We cannot tolerate fraud and embezzlement, or crimes being committed in any form.”

Haller also commended the actions of those at First United Methodist Church of Mason City, the victims of the fraud, for their “prompt, thorough and professional response by referencing the matter to the proper authorities and taking corrective action with the inner operations of church affairs.”

Last week, Melissa Noland was sentenced to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution to the church for stealing at least $274,000 to pay for student loan and credit card debts, among other expenses. 

Noland had been employed by First UMC from January 2015 until January 2019 and was terminated by the church when thefts were discovered.

In advance of her sentencing, the 47-year-old Noland entered a guilty plea to one count of wire fraud in May, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Noland stole money from the church in various ways. Noland wrote checks to herself using the church’s checkbook, used church bank accounts to pay her own credit card bills, and made excess payroll distributions to herself,” explained the DOJ.

“The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Anthony Morfitt and investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Mason City Police Department.”

According to statistics, the average church loss in cases of fraud is $120,000 – yet an estimated 80% of church fraud cases don’t get reported.

In March, a Pennsylvania church treasurer was charged with stealing over $150,000 from his congregation, with some of the money being used on a pornography website, according to authorities.

In February, a Michigan man faced felony charges after being accused of stealing some $800,000 from his church in Grand Rapids. 

Additionally, in February of last year, a church secretary at a Baptist church in New Jersey was arrested after being accused of stealing $600,000 to pay for her car, rent, wedding and online purchases. 

That same year, a Pennsylvania church employee and his wife were charged with stealing over $1.2 million from the church. They were said to have used the money for sports events, vacations and other expenses.

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