Discrepancies in the financial records of the First Assembly of God Church in Visalia, California, were first uncovered by a 2009 accounts payable audit.
The church’s bookkeeper, Sandra Arreola, was found to have given herself an unauthorized pay raise. She also misappropriated funds from church offerings and altered bank deposit slips to cover her tracks, according to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office. The embezzlement, which occurred between 2002 and 2008, totaled more than $2.1 million.
Arreola was recently sentenced to 11 years in prison for embezzlement and money laundering. She was also ordered to repay the full amount of misappropriated money to the church.
“We recognize that it is an exceptionally large amount but we hope it will be paid,” said assistant deputy attorney Timothy Ward, as quoted by the Visalia Times Delta. Ward noted that the restitution order expedited the processing of the case, and Arreola is expected to be eligible for parole in approximately six years.
Elsewhere in the country, the former pastor of a Haverhill, Massachusetts, church pleaded guilty to larceny in June after an AP audit revealed he had stolen more than $83,000 from the parish.