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Church Secretary Embezzled for 11 Years, Stole Over $200K for Jewelry, Vacations, and College

Last week in Alabama, a district judge sentenced a church secretary to five years in prison for wire fraud after she embezzled over $200,000 from the church where she worked.

Court documents say Sharon Collins, 53, worked for the First Baptist Church in Foley from May 2007 to July 2019. She initially served as a secretary and later worked as a financial secretary for the church and a related school.

As the church’s financial secretary, Collins embezzled $209,744.61 of church funds by using church-issued credit cards.

Collins admitted in her guilty plea that between 2008 and 2019, she used church credit cards to make hundreds of electronic transactions for herself and her friends and family.

Records show Collins spent almost $3,000 in DirectTv bills using the church credit card. She also used church-issued credit cards to book a cruise, buy jewelry, and purchase trips to New Orleans and Las Vegas. In addition, Collins spent $7,300 of the church’s money towards a bachelor’s degree at Troy University.

Collins’ fraudulent credit card transactions transmitted interstate wire signals to further her fraud scheme, violating federal law. In August 2022, Collins pleaded guilty to 12 of the 34 counts against her.

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Fox10 News reported that First Baptist Foley’s senior pastor Drew Whittington told the judge he was not on staff when the embezzlement occurred.

Joseph Landry, who now serves as lead pastor of another church, recalled uncovering “a nightmare scenario of credit card fraud, lies, and an abuse of congregational trust from the person given the responsibility to account for day-to-day financial operations of the church” in 2019 as the new pastor of First Baptist Foley.

Fox10 said Landry wrote saying Collin’s fraud prevented the church from funding programs and supporting missionaries. He said church staff had to give up employee benefits and accept lower salaries than those in similar positions—all while Collins was using church funds to buy airline tickets for her and family members to Las Vegas, a trip to Disney World, and put down deposits on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

“For whatever plea Mrs. Collins offers today, I hope that everyone involved today understands that she has spent years now spreading threats, slander, and innuendo against the leadership of First Baptist Foley,” he wrote.

In addition to her five-year prison sentence, US District Judge Terry Moorer ordered Collins to serve a three-year probation term upon her release. For the supervisory period, she will be subject to credit restrictions.

Collins must also pay the full amount she stole: $209,744.61 in restitution plus $1,200 in special assessments.

Main photo: Pexels / Creative Commons

Jessica Eturralde

Jessica Eturralde is a military wife of 18 years and mother of three who serves as a freelance writer, TV host, and filmmaker. Bylines include Yahoo, Huffington Post, OC16TV.