Magazine article The Christian Century

Former UMC Officer Accused of Embezzlement

Magazine article The Christian Century

Former UMC Officer Accused of Embezzlement

Article excerpt

The United Methodist Church's Board of Global Ministries, the denomination's major domestic and foreign mission agency, has accused a former comptroller general of embezzling about $400,000 and putting the money into his bank account. The UMC, with 8.6 million members, is the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination.

Lorene Wilbur, the board's associate, general secretary, said that church officials uncovered William R. Jones's alleged embezzlement within days of his leaving his job at the New York City--based agency. Though most of the alleged embezzlement involves one $392,000 transfer, a continuing examination of the agency's books has turned up a small number of other apparently irregular transfers, Wilbur said. "I am sure that the [total] amount will go somewhat over $400,000," she added.

The Board of Global Ministries has an income from church members and investments of approximately $120 million a year. The agency supports a vast array of overseas and domestic programs, including mission Work, development of ethnic minority churches in the U.S., and disaster relief worldwide. Jones began working at the UMC agency in November 1993. His duties included overseeing the dispersal of agency funds and preparation of financial reports. Although Jones did not directly handle money, he could request the transfer of funds from one account to another.

Jones left the agency October 19 to become treasurer of the California-Pacific Annual Conference, a regional jurisdiction within the denomination. He began that job November 1. About two weeks later--on November 16--Jones met with board officials and lawyers and "signed a statement admitting the misappropriation of church funds" and promised restitution, Wilbur said. Jones was fired from his West Coast job the next day by Bishop Roy Sano, head of the California-Pacific conference. Sano stated that he "relieved Jones of his duties as conference treasurer ... after the allegations of criminal embezzlement were confirmed." Jones could not be located for comment. "It is our understanding that he was arrested in Los Angeles and is en route to New York," Wilbur said.

Wilbur explained that church rules forbid her from providing any personal information about Jones, his age or his employment history, other than that his previous job was at a hospital. Global Ministries officials testified before a New York grand jury on November 28, but the meeting was continued to an unspecified future date. "We expect they will return an indictment," Wilbur commented.

According to Wilbur, the alleged $392,000 embezzlement took place in one large transfer on October 18, the day before Jones's resignation took effect and while the board's top officials, including Jones, were meeting in Connecticut. Wilbur said Jones telephoned a request from the Connecticut meeting to the New York staff, asking it to make an "emergency transfer" of funds from one bank account to another. Jones allegedly told those in New York that the funds were for "children's relief." Wilbur said Jones followed up his telephone request with a more formal faxed request with his signature, as board rules require.

Although staff officials in New York made the transfer, it became apparent that the money was missing when Jones did not provide the backup documentation required by the board's internal financial controls, Wilbur said. "Immediate action was taken to trace the missing amount, and it was determined that Jones had transferred funds into a personal bank account." Wilbur indicated that the board took action to freeze Jones's account--which she said still contained a significant portion of the $392,000-and notified the California-Pacific Annual Conference and the district attorney's office in New York. In California no financial irregularities have turned up, according to Howard Hudson, president of the conference's Council on Finance and Administration. "Our preliminary investigation has revealed no problems," Hudson said. …

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