by Aaron Gibson, Dec 31, 2015
A church treasurer found guilty of stealing more than $11,000 from the Lake Waynoka Community Chapel was sentenced Tuesday, Dec. 29 in Brown County Common Pleas Court.
Judge Scott T. Gusweiler handed Miles Harrigan a sentence of 3 years of community control and 100 hours community service after Harrigan pleaded guilty to one count of fourth-degree felony theft. He must also pay back $11,227.96 he was found guilty of stealing from the church. Additionally, Harrigan was ordered to have no contact with Lake Waynoka Community Chapel.
Prosecutors alleged Harrigan, former treasurer of Lake Waynoka Community Chapel from 2012 to July 2015, took out ATM debit cards belonging to the church and used them in casinos & bowling alleys, among other places. The stolen money allegedly came from several funds, including one used to buy Christmas presents for needy children.
According to First Assistant Prosecutor Zac Corbin, Harrigan allegedly stood in front of the congregation and apologized for stealing from the church after being confronted with the allegations. “He got up and gave an apology, basically an admission, and then he left the church,” he said.
However, pinpointing the exact amount of money stolen, or when exactly the thefts began, was harder to prove for the prosecution, which requested a forensic accountant from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) to go through the books and bank records of Lake Waynoka Community Chapel.
Assistant Prosecutor Chris Van Harlingen, who handled the case in court, said she is confident Harrigan had been stealing from the church at least between Jan. 2013 and July 31, 2015.
“The [BCI] accountant actually looked back through records from January 2012, but I think it wasn’t really as clear then as it became in 2013,” she said, adding, “Just because there were some funds missing back in 2012, that doesn’t mean we could necessarily prove that it was this defendant as opposed to somebody else, or an accounting error, or something.”
Conclusions on the exact amount of money stolen differed between the accountant from Ohio BCI and a church committee investigating the thefts. While both reached a different number, they did agree the amount was in the vicinity of $17 to $18 thousand. The final figure Van Harlingen sought at sentencing was $11,227.96.
According to prosecutors, the investigation into Harrigan began when a committee was set up by the church board to conduct an internal audit. A board member had became suspicious after finding a past-due notice from Waynoka Regional Water & Sewer District, as well as checks that had been either left unwritten or signed by only one party.
The committee then decided to look through the financials, where they found several problems in the accounting.
“They noticed there had been a couple of ATM debit cards that had been taken out without authorization of the board,” Corbin said. “Then they started seeing checks that were being written that weren’t authorized by the board, and they didn’t know what these checks were for.”
The case was then brought to the attention of the Brown County Prosecutor’s Office, who sought assistance from a forensic accountant with Ohio BCI.
Harrigan faced a maximum sentence of up to 18 months in prison, a $5,000 fine and restitution for the thefts.
–Published in The Brown County Press Volume 43 No.22
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