Former church secretary sentenced for theft

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A former church secretary is headed to prison after stealing more than $112,000.

Mary Ary, 72, of 10530 Hinton Mill Road, Marysville was sentenced Wednesday to 12 months in prison.

Visiting Judge Mark O’Connor of Logan County said Ary may file for judicial release in 30 days.

In July, Ary pleaded guilty to one count of grand theft, a felony of the fourth degree.

Ary served as the secretary at First Presbyterian Church, 210 W. Fifth St., for 13 years. 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.

The former secretary also allegedly overpaid herself salary and benefits.

According to court records, the unauthorized salary and benefits totaled about $74,000 and Ary made about $39,000 in unauthorized purchases.

Union County Prosecutor Dave Phillips said that while a fourth-degree felony carries a presumption against prison, that presumption is overcome because she “occupied a position of trust.”

“She was not only the church secretary, she was also the church financial secretary. She had access to the books. She is the one that had access to the credit cards and she used those for her own benefit. She was one of the employees who was supposed to prevent this fraud.”

First Presbyterian’s Pastor, the Rev. Jeff Schooley, read a statement prepared by church leadership, detailing the impact of the woman’s trespasses.

“The discovery that we all were victims of an enormous scam came as a crushing blow,” Schooley read.

He added, “While the money taken from our church is gut-wrenching, the repeated betrayal of our church family’s trust is heartbreaking. Our church will be healing from this for a long time.”

He said the church’s former pastor, the late Rev. Dr. Scott Strohm, did without raises when the church was struggling financially.

Phillips detailed sentences on similar cases. He said prison was necessary to be consistent.

“This impact on this institution has been significant. Other sentences imposed by this court in lesser crimes have been more than community control. Given this, I understand her age, I understand her lack of a criminal record, but your honor, given the seriousness factors, we believe incarceration is appropriate.”

Ary told the court she feels “humble, humiliation, shame, deep regret” over the theft and the betrayal of trust.

“Even now, I am not so sure how to put into words the shame and dislike I feel for myself, nor sadness I feel for letting down those who believed in me,” Ary said.

She said that when her finances “became stretched” she was embarrassed and began using the church credit cards for personal purchases.

“I told myself I would pay it back by the next paycheck,” Ary said.

She said eventually the debts “mounted up quickly.”

“I kept on telling myself I would take care of it later,” Ary said.

She said she was “ashamed.”

“I humbly apologize to the members of the First Presbyterian Church for the damage I have caused by my actions and beg for your forgiveness. I did not intend to hurt anyone.”

Schooley told the court he would not accept the woman’s apology. He said if the woman was sorry, she would have already apologized.

“It also makes me think that any apology offered today will just continue to be a sophisticated legal maneuver, meant to gain leniency from this court,” Schooley said. “I would much prefer, if she truly is remorseful, in my professional and pastoral guidance, that she accept the full punishment for her crimes, and then, having graciously served that time, come to the church and seek the reconciliation that she needs. Anything less than that today is just tough to trust as authentic and real.”

He explained “a just resolution to her fraud would begin to thaw our chapped hearts,” but the church’s ability to forgive their debtor is “is directly linked to justice rendered and to Ms. Ary’s spoken repentance.”

While the insurance company has repaid the congregation $112,287, the church is out its $1,000 deductible. Streng said Ary has made “full restitution” of the $1,000 and the money is in an account waiting to be released by the court. O’Connor said he ordered that the money be paid immediately to the clerk of courts to be distributed to the church.



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