Lawsuit: PA Church Worker Stole $340,000 From Fund For Poor

66-year old Sharon Warunek was the office manager of the church's charitable donations fund.


Former Diocese of Scranton Worker Accused of Stealing $340K in Donations


Worker embezzlements schemes are at a five-year high as of the Boston-based security firm Marquet International's latest count, as AOL Jobs has reported. Indeed, 2012 saw the uncovering of 538 instances of employee fraud worth more than $100,000. Many schemes that began at the beginning of the financial crisis are only now coming to light. But amid such rampant employee theft, some cases still stand out for their shocking nature. Take, for instance, the charge being levied against 66-year old Sharon Warunek, a resident of Lackawanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Warunek worked for 27 years with the Diocese of Scranton. And over that time, she's alleged to have stolen at least $340,000 from the church's charitable donations fund, the money from which is handed over to a variety of causes for the poor. Warunek held the title of office manager at the church's Society for the Propagation of the Faith and so opened the mail and handled the checks that were sent to the office. She's said to have used the money to pay for monthly charges on a Discover credit card with "clockwork regularity," in the words of Pennsylvania-based newspaper, Citizens' Voice.

On Thursday, Warunek surrendered at the Lackawanna Courthouse and was charged with one count each of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property. It's a "sad reality that there will always be individuals who seek to exploit and circumvent whatever system that is in place," Scranton Bishop Joseph D. Bambera said in a statement. Warunek's bounty may in fact be greater than $340,000; the statute of limitations on the theft only covers the last seven years. Officials estimate the amount stolen before 2006 to be around $80,000.

How did the alleged fraud get uncovered? In August, an official with the Diocese noticed a check for $6,000 was made out to a credit card the diocese had no awareness of. The investigation soon made it to the district attorney's office, which discovered 83 mysterious payments dating back to February 2006, as was reported by local television outlet WNEP. And the Discover card was allegedly under Warunek's name and address, according to the court affidavit.

Why would she have done it? Warunek was suspended without pay on Aug. 21 by the church. And on Sept. 6, she was fired. She's hired William Peters of nearby Clark Summit as her lawyer. He told AOL Jobs no comment was being made to the press as he still had to review the evidence. Warunek is currently free on $25,000 bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 20, as Fox News reported.

Who's more likely to commit fraud in the workplace? As remarkable as an allegation may be of someone stealing from a fund devoted to helping the poor, the fact that a women is being accused is not. According to the Marquet report, nearly two out of three alleged embezzlers from last year were female. Why might that be? It seems women simply tend to have greater access to steal money, as they are more likely to occupy bookkeeping positions that have access to the coffers, as Chris Marquet, CEO of Marquet International, previously told AOL Jobs.

And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 90 percent of bookkeepers in the country were women in 2010, the last year for which information is available.

It should also come as no surprise that a religious organization was hit. One out of every eight schemes revealed last year was at a non-profit or religious organization, according to Marquet's reporting. Such institutions are particularly vulnerable because they "have very weak control systems," Marquet also told AOL Jobs. "They're not operating on big budgets that allow them to spend money on accountants," he said.

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Douglas Zoubek

It's no different from any of the TV evangelists. They scoop up donations from decent and kindhearted folks. They then take that money and live lavish lifestyles. Does Jim Baker ring a bell? There Are several good people that will give donations to help others. There are as many con artists that trick these goodhearted people out of their hard earned cash. Scams of this nature are not uncommon. What is the ironic part, is they get tax exemption as they fleece the flock. The sad part is the continuation of support for these crooks, even after they are found out. The believers will always find it in their hearts to forgive embezzlement, and continue to give. I guess it makes some people feel good about themselves with their generosity. Maybe some feels it paves the way for salvation. Whatever the reason that people give , it is a commendable action for wanting to help. Hopefully money gets to where it is supposed to go.

October 10 2013 at 9:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
keefero

PS - This turns kind-hearted people 'off' when it comes to donating...

Let's hope it does not have a ripple effect, despite these goings on..... Peace to all.........

October 10 2013 at 6:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
keefero

What a nice lady..........not......

She looks no the leaner for lack of grain in the temple graniery .....

Those souls who (truly) needed the funds for most basic needs..... I am happy that they found out.

October 10 2013 at 6:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
liondog96

Is there any proof this fund was FUNDING the poor? Notice that? You always hear about organizations accepting money, but where are the commercials of them giving the money? Seriously, Show all the names of poor people who received money from this church fund.
Yeah, cancer organizations collected billions...we still got cancer. Any cancer patient receive free operations?

October 10 2013 at 5:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anna

90% of bookkeepers were not women, and to assume a CPA from a top three university program that has passed all four parts of the CPA and scored in the top 9% of her class and the top 3% of all exam takers in 5 years is the same as a "bookkeeper" because she is female Is offensive. On charity fraud and its prosecution and persecution, there are different rules of disclosure that apply for a 501(c)(3) a 501(c)(4) and a religious organization a 501(g). Perhaps you should do some reading and fact checking before flying to assumptions. Certain activities are allowed and prohibited for each, only a directly owned subsidiary that is not bankruptcy or lawsuit remote for tax purposes is allowed a ministerial exemption. On tackling frauds at charities, as long as there are not political motivations, it is something that State AGs should pursue with vigour and gusto.

October 10 2013 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
banngbanng

I'm sure she will just ask god for forgiveness, and then will instantly feel forgiven... BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!

October 10 2013 at 1:42 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
banngbanng

What else is new. Church=greed. Hmmm, read the history books, this is not a new concept.

October 10 2013 at 1:38 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
spotapony

Why would anyone be surprised by this?

October 10 2013 at 1:22 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
carbonique

Temptation can happen anywhere and it happens when inidividuals are allowed time to access things they want to steal or destroy. It happens in car clubs and any other place of easy access where only one pair of eyes is on the till. I am sure it happens in restaurants, banks, ect.....If money is to be used for what it was intended for....there should be a systems of checking up on those that handle the money or any other asset that is important. It happens on small scales and larger. We all know human nature has its weaknesses. Even in a classroom of Kindergartners, you will find thievery. It happens, so put the guards in place....cameras or other individuals who can be accountable. It is common sense.

October 10 2013 at 12:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to carbonique's comment
banngbanng

But she had god on her side. Does that count for nothing?! How dare you!

October 10 2013 at 1:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Calvin

Can you say,I'm going to hell?

October 10 2013 at 12:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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