Sisters Lana Chang and Mary Margaret Kreuper, a long-time teacher and a principal, respectively, at St. James Catholic School in Torrance, California, have been publicly accused of stealing half a million dollars from the school to go on vacations, including jaunts to play the casinos in Las Vegas.
The crimes only became apparent when it was discovered that a check that had been made out to the school several years before had been deposited into the bank account that the two nuns had set up to use as their slush fund for travel and gaming.
Both of the nuns have recently retired and are reported to be the best of friends. Some might say that they’re “thick as thieves.” It’s believed that they have been stealing from the school for at least 10 years, setting aside money sent in to the school for donations, fees, and tuition payments into their special account.
The half-million-dollar amount represents just what auditors have so far been able to find in six years’ worth of bank records. This number might not include other transactions.
School officials, including the church’s monsignor Michael Meyers, met with parents last week and explained just how the sisters managed to get away with it for so long. According to The Press Telegram, the school’s attorney commented on the nuns’ actions:
“We do know that they had a pattern of going on trips, we do know they had a pattern of going to casinos, and the reality is, they used the account as their personal account.”
Some parents knew the women would go on trips, but they said they were all gifts from a well-off relative.
The archdiocese started an internal investigation six months ago when the organization carried out a standard audit of procedures shortly before Kreuper’s retirement after serving the school for 28 years.
At about the same time, a family member asked for a copy of the check they had made out to the school, and school staff noticed it had been deposited into a bank account different than the school’s bank account.
According to Meyers, Sister Kreuper became anxious and nervous about the looming financial review. She also asked staff members to alter records.
Meyers informed the internal auditor for the archdiocese that something wasn’t right and the auditor agreed. The archdiocese then hired the services of an independent forensic auditor to look deeper into the matter.
Without the standard audit and an anonymous tip made to the archdiocese hotline, the school would have probably never discovered their crimes. Because the school had always been profitable, no one suspected anything.
None of the other staff members are said to be involved with the crime.
When officials from the school realized the magnitude of what the criminal nuns had done, they confronted them. The two gambling embezzlers immediately admitted their crimes and have also begged for forgiveness from everyone involved.
Luckily for them, the order to which the nuns involve has said it will pay back all the money and due to this, the archdiocese isn’t pressing charges.
As of this time, we don’t know if the two of them will have any legal consequences, although the nuns’ order has said it will impose “severe sanctions” against the women. They have been removed from ministry and sent to separate convents.
There are a lot of outraged parents as a result of these allegations coming to light. It’s especially understandable given that the school has struggled with funding for a number of projects in the last few years. The two nuns reportedly told parents that the school was running on a tight budget. An anonymous parent told the local Fox affiliate:
“I will honestly say that it’s not shocking to me. There have been a couple of projects that we have been trying to get funded for many years that we have unfortunately been unable to move forward with because of the lack of funding.”
At the meeting with school officials, parents held a mix of reactions ranging from anger and disappointment to forgiveness and calls for jail.
Many want to have the nuns charged, and others wanted the restitution money to go towards the things they were told the school couldn’t afford, like sun awnings for an outdoor eating area and teacher pay raises.
The money that the nuns stole was extra and would have gone into the school’s contingency fund, which means the school certainly would have been able to afford those things and additional upgrades.
Other parents are angry that the school isn’t asking for justice, just for the money. One parent, Jack Alexander of Redondo Beach, had an interview with the Southern California News Group and said that he and a group of other parents are talking about going to Torrance police themselves to file charges.
But he’s doubtful it would go ahead without the archdiocese’s support and cooperation.
Alexander said that the school’s decision sends the wrong message to students, teaching that morals aren’t as important as money:
“They are trying to recapture money, not get justice.”
Samantha Pierce, who lives in Torrance, has attended St. James for over 30 years. Her son also graduated from the school. She said at the meeting that the fact that the embezzlement happened at all is proof of a failure of leadership from the church and that only a police investigation should be trusted.
She believes that the church convicted the sisters without all of the evidence being presented, and doesn’t feel that the nuns acted with malicious intent.
Pierce said that Sister Kreuper had given tuition forgiveness in the past and also offered financial help to families who went through tough times. Pierce also said that if the nuns did in fact use the funds illegally, she would forgive them.
If anything, this news story will cement the fact that we’re all just people after all, and we are all vulnerable to temptation.
However, this story does have all the makings of a Hangover movie or a Sister Act film as it’s hard to believe that two nuns could steal that much money without being caught sooner.
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