Church secretary pleads to theft

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Union County Prosecutor Dave Phillips speaks to members of First Presbyterian Church gathered Wednesday outside the common pleas courtroom. The congregation was on hand to watch as former church secretary Mary Ary pleaded guilty to stealing more than $113,000 from the church.

(Journal-Tribune photo by Mac Cordell)

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Dozens of members of First Presbyterian Church were on hand to watch as their former secretary admitted to stealing more than $113,000.

Mary Ary, 72, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a bill of information, charging her with one count of grand theft, a felony of the fourth degree.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Ary waived her right to go through the grand jury process and to go to trial.

Ary said she understood the charges against her and entered a guilty plea, which visiting Judge Mark O’Connor of Logan County accepted.

The judge ordered a presentence investigation and set the sentencing hearing for 10 a.m., Sept. 11.

O’Connor said there is no sentencing agreement. Union County Prosecutor Dave Phillips and defense attorney Michael Streng said they would argue sentencing at the hearing.

Ary could face as many as 18 months in prison, though, as O’Connor explained, there is a presumption against sending the woman to prison.

Following the hearing, the assembled parishioners questioned Phillips about the idea that the law recommends against a prison sentence. Under the Ohio Revised Code, felonies of the fourth and fifth degree carry a presumption that the offender will not go to prison. That presumption can be overcome by things like the defendant’s criminal record, a lack of remorse, abusing a position of trust or if the crime is more egregious than what usually constitutes the offense.

Ary served for 13 years as the secretary at First Presbyterian Church, 210 W. Fifth St., Marysville. In 2008, Ary began to use church credit and bank cards to buy a variety of personal items. She also allegedly kept at least one card after her retirement in 2016.

“Detectives obtained Ary’s bank records noting that when her account balance was low or negative, the unauthorized purchases by Ary increased,” according to the bill of particulars.

Ary did write checks to repay the church for personal purchases, but most of them were never deposited.

The former secretary also overpaid herself salary and benefits.

At the hearing, Phillips said the unauthorized salary and benefits totaled about $74,000. He said Ary made about $39,000 in unauthorized purchases.

Phillips said detectives and a forensic accountant went through the church records in an attempt to determine exactly how much money was unaccounted for. He said investigators came up with different numbers and he used “the lesser amount.”

The church is out its $1,000 deductible, but the insurance company has repaid the congregation $112,287.

First Presbyterian Church is inviting members to attend the sentencing hearing so they can tell the court how Ary’s crimes have impacted them.



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