Two archdioceses lose $1 million each in thefts

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Employees of the New York and Philadelphia archdioceses are accused of stealing $1 million each in church funds over the past decade.

In New York, archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling said Jan. 30 that Anita Collins, who had worked for the archdiocese since 2003, allegedly stole about $1 million before she was fired Dec. 6. Collins used “a sophisticated fraud to manipulate the accounts payable system in the Department of Education Finance Office,” Zwilling said.

Collins was arraigned Jan. 30 on criminal charges of grand larceny and falsifying business records and ordered held on $750,000 bail. She faces a possible jail sentence of up to 25 years.

In Philadelphia, Anita Guzzardi, who was named chief financial officer of the archdiocese July 1, was terminated from employment later in July when alleged “financial accounting irregularities” were discovered. Although an investigation by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office was continuing, sources said the amount involved is nearly $1 million.

No criminal charges have been filed against Guzzardi.

Both archdioceses were said to be cooperating with the local investigations and reviewing their internal financial oversight procedures.

“Sadly, there will always be individuals who seek to exploit and circumvent whatever system is established, but we will remain vigilant in our oversight,” Zwilling said.

The New York case was discovered by the archdiocese itself and its outside auditors and then reported to the Manhattan District Attorney. The amount embezzled was initially believed to be $350,000.

Collins, 67, was hired in 2003 without the criminal background check that the archdiocese now makes for every new employee. According to news reports, she pleaded guilty to criminal charges in other fraud cases in 1986 and 1999 and received probation.

The funds Collins allegedly embezzled were reportedly paid out in some 450 checks from the archdiocese to accounts she controlled over the last six or seven years. Each of the amounts was below the $2,500 threshold at which a supervisor’s signature would have also been required.

At the arraignment, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Amy Justiniano said Collins used the money she allegedly embezzled to buy high-end clothing, an extensive doll collection and expensive furniture.

In the Philadelphia case, Guzzardi’s alleged embezzlement was uncovered when a fraud investigator for American Express reported to the archdiocese that the woman had been paying off gambling debts to the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, N.J., with archdiocesan funds.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office informed the archdiocese of an investigation regarding financial concerns July 13. The next day, Guzzardi, now 43, was placed on administrative leave.

The archdiocese then launched an internal investigation conducted by former federal prosecutor Hank Hockheimer of the law firm Ballard Spahr, along with investigators from the accounting firm ParenteBeard.

As one result of that ongoing investigation, Guzzardi was fired July 22. She had been named chief financial officer only on July 1, having served as acting CFO since Jan. 1, 2011.

Guzzardi, who holds a master’s degree in business administration, has served in several positions in the archdiocese, mostly in finance, since 1989. She became the coordinator and financial manager for the Office of Renewal and Evangelization in July 1998, after which she transferred to the archdiocesan Office for Parish Financial Services in November 2001 as its director.

She transferred to the Office for Accounting Services in December 2002 and was named controller of the Archdiocese, the position she held until this year.

Archdiocesan officials said they expect any financial loss to be covered under the archdiocesan insurance program.