MUNCIE, Ind. - Federal fraud charges have been filed against the bookkeeper of a Muncie church, who is accused of going shopping and taking vacations using money from the collection plate.
A court order has been issued for Angela Linder to appear before a federal judge in Indianapolis.
Linder was in charge of the finances at Union Chapel United Methodist Church on North Broadway Avenue in Muncie between 2003 and May 2010, when federal investigators say she siphoned more than $200,000 from church bank accounts, which included tithes paid by parishioners.
Federal prosecutors have filed charges known as "criminal information" against Linder, saying she paid her own bills, went shopping and even used church money for a family vacation to Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Linder is accused of writing checks to herself that totaled $28,339 between 2007 and 2010.
She is also accused of charging shopping trips and other personal expenses on credit cards that were paid with church money.
Court documents spell out $32,044 in charges on one credit card that was used to buy wine, clothes, movie tickets and airline tickets.
The documents allege that a different credit card was charged $36,254, including charges for hotels, rental cars, purchases at a bridal store and medical expenses, while a third was charged $70,778 for meals at restaurants, a Boy Scout camping trip, groceries and medical expenses.
The criminal information documents also accuse Linder of charging $5,702 on a Lowe’s charge card for remodeling work at her own home.
Linder is charged with using church funds for $19,641 on yet another credit card, which was used for a trip to Gatlinburg and various museums, as well as purchases from the American Girl Doll Store.
Finally, prosecutors allege that a sixth credit card contained $7,441 worth of charges paid by the church so that Linder could buy weight loss products, take another vacation and purchase cosmetics.
In all, the credit card charges in the criminal information filed against Linder total $171,860.
Prosecutors say that Linder also paid herself an additional salary for work with the church’s community center -- a separate non-profit organization -- which the church had not authorized.
She is also accused of setting up a fund that she claimed would be helping local fire victims with their expenses. Prosecutors say she paid $2,500 in church money toward that purported fire victims' fund, but the church had not approved any of its funds going toward that effort, according to the court papers.
A telephone number listed for Linder in Yorktown had been disconnected, so she could not be reached for comment.
In court filings, prosecutors with the United States Attorney's office in Indianapolis wrote that Linder has already agreed to plead guilty in the coming weeks. She was not arrested, but a conviction could yield a sentence ranging from probation to several years in federal prison.
Prosecutors said Linder was paid a salary from the church, which included allowances for education, medical expenses and child care. She is accused of trying to disguise some of her expenditures by filling out forms for reimbursement, claiming that they were church expenses being paid.
The senior pastor at Union Chapel United Methodist Church, Rev. Gregg Parris, issued a statement to the Call 6 Investigators:
"We were very disappointed to learn our former accountant was misappropriating church funds for personal use. Needless to say, when trust is violated, it does harm to everyone involved, especially in a setting where trust is so highly regarded.
"Union Chapel is devoted to serving the Muncie community. We have faced this challenge successfully because we have a great God, great parishioners and live in a great community. We are determined to stay faithful to God's best plan for our church, accountable for all the resources contributed and stronger for this experience," he wrote in the statement.
He declined to answer questions about the conditions or timing of her departure from the church or how the theft was discovered.