By Elizabeth Hearst for AMLi
A Catholic Nun who ran an elementary school in California has pleaded guilty to funnelling more than $835,000 in school funds to feed her gambling habit.
Mary Margaret Kreuper, 79, was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Ms. Kreuper, was former Principal at St. James Catholic School for nearly three years before she retired in 2018. Legal representation for Ms. Kreuper said the nun was “very remorseful for what happened”.
In a statement, her attorney said: “Unfortunately, later in her life she has been suffering from a mental illness that clouded her judgement and caused her to do something that she would otherwise not have done”.
The charges were brought against Ms Kreuper, after the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said it had contacted authorities in 2018 following a financial review.
The financial records showed that a “substantial amount of school funds had been misappropriated for personal use” by Ms Kreuper, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In a statement, the Archdiocese said it was “shocked and saddened by these actions”.
In November 2018, a pastor at the St. James Catholic Church said an internal review had shown that two nuns, former Principal Sister Kreuper and former Vice-Principal Sister Lana Chang, had allegedly misappropriated school funds for personal use.
According to the LA Times, parents described how the nuns would regularly drive to school in Volvos, and had spoken openly about their trips to Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe.
In her former role as school Principal, Ms. Kreuper was responsible for the school’s financial accounts, and served as a signatory on two accounts linked to the school, including its savings account.
According to the court filings, Ms. Kreuper used school funds to pay for expenses including gambling and credit card charges, as “the order would not have approved, much less paid for large gambling expenses incurred at casinos and certain credit card charges”.
Ms. Kreuper then allegedly falsified monthly and annual school financial statements, in which she concealed that funds were deposited and withdrawn. It is alleged that Ms. Kreuper also instructed employees at the school to “alter and destroy financial records during a school audit”, according to court filings.
Ms. Kreuper’s charges carry a maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison. A plea agreement notes that Ms. Kreuper will be required to pay restitution charges of $835,000. Ms. Kreuper will be sentenced on July 1st.
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