A Walbridge woman who stole from the church where she worked has been given a jail sentence.
Kelsey Hartford, 31, appeared Tuesday in the courtroom of Wood County Common Pleas Judge Matt Reger.
She was charged through a bill of information in August for aggravated theft and tampering with evidence, both third-degree felonies.
Hartford took $178,300 from St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Perrysburg between Dec. 1, 2017 and April 1, 2020.
She was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
The trust among church leadership has been broken, said Father Jeffry Bunke, who attended the sentencing. Financial matters can build or destroy trust, he said, and this theft of funds has killed all trust.
“Our trust in one another has been shaken,” Bunke said.
The church has undergone audits for 2019 and 2020 and one is planned for 2021, he said. It is too early in this fiscal year to estimate lost revenue, but it is expected, Bunke said.
He said this has led to a loss in trust inside the inner circle of leadership, but not so among the congregation.
“Here is a situation where there were no good reasons for her behavior,” said defense attorney Stevin Groff. “This behavior hurts an individual and harms everyone.”
He asked for no prison sentence to allow Hartford to work and make restitution.
“She took full responsibility and she will work to pay back the money,” Groff said.
The church was able to get most of the money back through insurance, but is asking that Hartford pay restitution of $20,931 to cover losses to the bank not covered by insurance.
Wood County Assistant Prosecutor James Tafelski said the stolen money was used for bills.
“However, it is important to note that reviewing those records … by and far it was just usual, normal expenses,” he said, adding that most bills were related to keeping the household in order. “The expenditures we found were not different from the any expenditures a normal person might have.”
“I am very sorry for what I did. I have no excuses,” Hartford said. “I don’t know how it got to be that amount.”
She said she confessed in April.
“I’d like to say I’m sorry to Father Jeff because they’d been nothing but good to me,” Hartford said.
“We can easily put numbers on this offense,” Reger said, but the unknown question is how the theft affected faith in the church. “I don’t know how many people you have caused to question their faith in the church and their leaders.”
He added, “It seems as though you are remorseful … but at the same time you can’t grasp why you did it.”
In addition to the jail time, Hartford’s sentence also includes five years community control for each charge and 200 hours of community service work. She is to have no contact with the church except for members who seek her out to discuss forgiveness.
For every month she makes a minimum $100 payment, starting June 1 she will be given community service hours. She also must complete an online theft education program.
Reger reserved 36 months in prison on each charge in Hartford violates her terms of community control.
“‘I hope that the people who have suffered that loss of trust have that faith renewed,” he said.
Hartford was a bookkeeper at the church and issued checks to her own bank account. She also altered church bank account records to eliminate any signs of her theft prior to an audit of the account.