The trusted 70-year-old treasurer of a small church in Des Moines, Iowa, who splurged nearly $59,000 from her church's purse on personal items, was sentenced Wednesday to 80 hours of community service and ordered to repay the money after her actions almost forced the church out of business.
Carol Jean Padgett of Altoona, the now former treasurer of Unity Lutheran Church, was arrested last December. In a deal with prosecutors in April, she only plead guilty to second-degree theft and credit card fraud even though she was facing seven felony charges, according to The Des Moines Register.
"You stole from God," the church's pastor, the Rev. Donna Joseph, told her in court Wednesday.
Padgett had been the church's treasurer for more than 11 years at the time of her arrest in 2016. In the beginning, according to the pastor, she was being paid for her work but the position was later switched to a volunteer position.
The congregation trusted Padgett so much, she was the only one who handled the church's money. As time went on, however, Padgett led church leaders to believe that the church would have to close due to financial woes. Based on her advice, they made sharp cuts to the church's budget including the pastor's salary and health insurance benefits. Many church members also volunteered more or donated extra money but conditions didn't appear to improve.
Church leaders then decided to check the church's bank statements for themselves and were shocked by what they discovered.
Padgett had made ATM withdrawals without the church council's approval and even wrote checks to herself without their consent, Joseph explained. It was also discovered that Padgett used the money she stole to buy herself a new car, an expensive vacuum, food at restaurants and other items, according to Joseph.
Church officials have only been able to confirm that the former treasurer stole $59,000, but Joseph believes it's likely that she took more.
"Only the Lord knows how much you really stole," Joseph told her in court.
Attorney Marlon Mormann, spokesperson for Unity Lutheran Church, told WHO-TV that if the church had eventually closed, Padgett's crime would have disappeared.
"The theory is that Carol Padgett tried to close the doors on the church to cover up her crime trail, because if the church had closed, everything would have disappeared and nobody would have ever known," he said.
"I think there's a lesson here for small nonprofits. I think that the lesson is the bank statements need to go to more than just one person. It should go to every person on the board, and there should be regular audits conducted," Mormann advised.
Padgett apologized to Joseph and other church members who attended the court hearing Wednesday and said she was "anxious" to repay the money she stole.
"I do apologize. ... My actions were deplorable," she said. Her attorney said she would post a payment of $1,400 on Wednesday.
Joseph warned, however, that she was worried about the way in which Padgett allowed the "love of money" to corrupt her.
"I worry, Carol, about the state of your soul," Joseph told her Wednesday.
"Sadly, money became your false God. ... The love of money is the root of all evil," the pastor added.
In addition to 80 hours of community service and the order to repay the money she stole, Padgett was also sentenced to two years of probation with a suspended prison sentence of five years for each of her two charges.