Protecting Churches from Embezzlement

Back in December, we ranked the Top 7 Resources to Combat Church Embezzlement. Six months later, I'm reminded of why, and with another unfortunate headline emerging last week, it's an opportunity for me to highlight a special online event we're hosting this week that you can attend.

At the time of our December posting, a couple of recent headlines had caught our eye, including the "zero tolerance" stance judges are beginning to take in cases involving embezzlement at churches, and a $1 million embezzlement allegation against an individual who oversaw a Connecticut church's investments.

In Your Church magazine's Spring 2010 issue, many of our Editorial Advisors cautioned leaders about the ever-present threat of fraud to church finances, a problem compounded by a reluctance by some to institute stronger financial controls, or by an ongoing presumption that safeguards aren't necessary because those in their church office are trustworthy.

Last week, we were reminded again of this threat—this time in our own backyard. The pastor of a storefront church in Aurora, Illinois, just minutes from our offices, was arrested, accused of swindling $470,000 from three men, including a member of his congregation, through a church real estate investment scheme.

While the circumstances in every case will differ, the common thread is the vulnerability of the local church when proper practices aren't in place.

In Pastor, Church, & Law, Volume 1: Legal Issues for Pastors, Richard Hammar covers the boundaries that pastors and church leaders must heed in investment situations like the real estate case in Aurora (he also wrote, "Could You Be Sued For Mismanaging Your Church's Money?" in the November/December 2008 issue of Church Law & Tax Report, which covered this topic).

Regarding proper controls and practices, we offer the Essential Guide to Church Finances. And that leads me to our special event: At 10:30 a.m. (Central Time) on Wednesday, co-author Vonna Laue will present a webinar on financial controls. For an hour, Vonna will highlight best practices for internal controls—what churches can do to safeguard against financial fraud. This webinar will help churches identify weaknesses in their current practices, and ways to implement better controls. She'll also take questions from participants. It's priced at $12.95 to make it accessible for churches of any size.

Our prayer remains simple: That as a not-for-profit publisher, we provide resources that help churches stay safe, legal, and financially sound. I know this webinar underscores our commitment; we hope these collective efforts reduce vulnerabilities and prevent future unfortunate headlines announcing financial improprieties at churches.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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