Ocean City Police Beat: The Case of the Church Lady Taketh
OCEAN CITY, MD – An employee of an Ocean City church was arrested in July after church officials discovered she had embezzled a large amount of money over the course of nearly one year.
On May 15, 2018, officers were called to the St. George Greek Orthodox Church, located at 8805 Coastal Highway, for a report of a theft scheme that had been taking place for several months.
Police say Detectives met with church representatives and Teresa M. Kolacz, 51, of Berlin, Md., who was an employee of the church at the time.
Charged with Fleecing Flock
Ocean City Police report that after a thorough investigation with assistance from the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office and church officials, detectives determined that Kolacz had allegedly stolen a total of over $100,000 since June 2017. A warrant was issued for Kolacz’s arrest on July 16 and she turned herself in to detectives on July 17th.
Court records show that Kolacz has been charged with eleven counts of embezzlement, theft, and forgery.
Following her surrender to police, Kolacz was incarcerated in the Worcester County Jail and held without bond, until a bond review on July 20th when she was released on July 26, 2018, after posting $50,000 bond.
While priests, pastors and parish councils can’t be responsible for employee theft, they can be held accountable for their hiring practices, failure to supervise the funds of the congregation and failing to conduct annual audits.
The persons responsible at St. George Church for hiring Kolacz failed to do even the most rudimentary background check prior to allowing her access to financial resources of the church. Maryland court records show that she had multiple financial collection actions along with a bankruptcy which should have triggered a bond requirement prior to her employment. A bonding company would have likely rejected covering her bond when checking financial records and provided her credit background as a reason to rate her a risk for insurance.
A survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors in 2016 conducted by LifeWay Research reveals that one in ten Protestant churches have experienced someone in a position of trust embezzling church funds.
About a third of pastor’s report that the most recent audit of their books was more than five years ago, reports Christianitytoday.com.
According to Sharefaith.com, the Brotherhood Mutual and Church Mutual Insurance Companies say that:
- Thirty percent of church workers will steal.
- The average loss due to church fraud is $120,000.
- About eighty percent of church fraud cases are not reported to police.
- Church leaders are naïve and don’t believe someone in their midst will steal.
- In the first half of 2014, Christians stole more than $39 billion in church funds, compared to the $35 billion churches spent worldwide on mission work.
- Most frauds continue for eighteen months before being discovered.
- Once an employee is trusted, they are given access to funds, cash, checking accounts and credit cards.