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Church treasurer arrested for theft

Church treasurer arrested for theft

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church treasurer arrested for theft

By Erik J. Alsgaard | April 13, 2009 {1000}

PORT TAMPA, Fla. — A treasurer at a small United Methodist church in the South Central District of the Florida Conference was arrested by Tampa police April 7 and charged with stealing more than $216,000 from the church.

Michael McKenzie, 46, was charged with two counts of grand theft of $100,000 or more, organized fraud over $50,000 and fraudulent use of personal information, according to police. He is being held on $52,500 bail.

Port Tampa United Methodist Church. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1146.

McKenzie allegedly took the money from Port Tampa United Methodist Church, a small neighborhood church just north of McDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Police records say McKenzie confessed to stealing the money to support a drug and gambling habit.

Tampa police Detective Lela Davis said McKenzie wrote checks to himself from an account the church set up after the sale of its parsonage.

Brian Brink, who serves the church as a lay supply pastor, became aware of problems in the church’s checking account last summer when his paycheck bounced. When a second paycheck bounced, Brink tried to meet with McKenzie to discuss the issue. When McKenzie failed to show up for the meeting Brink contacted both the Florida Conference and law enforcement officials.

Speaking to his congregation Easter Sunday — the first worship service after the news of McKenzie’s arrest became public — Brink said the incident made for a very difficult week.

“It’s been a trying week,” he said. “But Jesus was here for it all. This incident really is an opportunity for us to be the body of Christ to the McKenzie family; to say to them, we love you and we forgive you for what’s happened.”

Brink told his congregation that when the McKenzie family — which has been very active in the church — returns to worship, “we need to embrace them and love them and be there for them.”

“We are praying for Michael and for the whole family,” Brink said. “We forgive what happens because God tells us to forgive.”

McKenzie allegedly took the money from January 2006 through August 2008, according to the arrest record.

“This is a sad, sad situation,” said the Rev. Sharon Austin, superintendent of the South Central District. “Local churches place great trust in their paid and volunteer staff. Whenever that trust is violated, people are hurt.”

Ron Beyer says the situation is yet another wakeup call to churches to review their policies and procedures when it comes to money. Beyer is an internal auditor on staff at the Florida Conference who assists local churches.

“Every church needs to have checks and balances in place to assure that money entrusted to the church in fact goes to support the ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” he said.

The 2008 Book of Discipline, Beyer said, contains specific guidelines in Paragraph 258.4 on how church funds should be handled.

The church should be able to recoup most of the losses, according to Mark Thomas, director of the Florida Conference Ministry Protection Department.

“The conference carries an insurance policy to cover these kinds of tragic situations,” he said. “After the insurance company does its own investigation and the church pays its deductible, we should see a return of most, if not all, of the money.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.