Sting operations nab a priest and a church secretary in separate incidents, but the one case cost the congregation more and took much longer to uncover than the other.
Days apart, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on two insider thefts at local churches. Eric Herman And Susan Hogan-Albach related the story of Rev. Mark Sorvillo, a priest at St. Margaret Mary Church on the North Side of Chicago, who took nearly $200,000 as pastor over eight years. He skimmed the collection, wrote checks to himself, and used church funds to pay his bills. With the money he pursued an upscale lifestyle: trips to Europe, shopping at Nieman Marcus, and dining at the best restaurants.
His downfall came when he proposed to close the parish school because of a shortfall of funds. This prompted an audit in 2004 that identified some problems, including wide fluctuations in collection amounts. Finally, a sting operation identified Rev. Sorvillo as the culprit.
His attorneys have said that he plans to plead guilty in exchange for a four-year sentence, of which he will probably serve two. He has been removed as pastor.
Isaac Wolf reports that in the South Side suburbs, Pamela Wagner, a church secretary at Living Word Lutheran Church, was caught on video pocketing a donation from a collection box. Police say that she admitted taking $250-$300 on at least twenty different occasions and estimate the total theft at $14,000 since 2005.
There's an obvious contrast here between the rapid discovery of the church secretary fraud and the long term stealing undertaken by Rev. Sorvillo. The priest's high-style life was noticed by parishioners, but apparently they didn't question it (or their questions were unheeded, we can't tell). The fact that the priest was able to engage successfully in multiple fraud methods shows how lacking are internal controls in the Chicago archdiocese.