(Ellen) Cooke Can't Remember, but Still Pleads Guilty: Faces Jail Term or Stiff Fine for Theft

Article excerpt

Newark, N.J.

Former Episcopal Church treasurer Ellen Cooke will be sentenced April 29 after pleading guilty in January to embezzling more than $1.5 million US in church funds over four years, and to evading U.S. federal income tax on more than $310,000 she stole in 1993.

In an appearance in United States District Court, Ms. Cooke waived her right to indictment by grand jury and admitted her guilt on both counts. But she told Judge Maryanne Trump Barry that a psychiatric disorder keeps her from recalling the actual crimes she committed.

"I now believe that I was not entitled to these funds," Ms. Cooke said. "I accept responsibility for what I have done. I can only assume that I knew at the time it was wrong."

Plato Cacheris, Ms. Cooke's attorney, said a psychiatrist has diagnosed the former treasurer as suffering from a bipolar mental disorder that causes her to "black out certain events that happened in the past."

Assistant Attorney Robert L. Ernst, who is prosecuting the case, said Ms. Cooke would be evaluated as well by a psychiatrist appointed by his office. Mr. Ernst would not say whether there is any investigation into possible involvement by Ms. Cooke's husband, Nicholas, a former Episcopal priest.

An investigation into church finances last year showed that Ms. …