You know the Department of Justice wrote the opening of this press release with some glee because of how many juicy details they were able to pack into it.
A nun who was the principal of a Catholic elementary school in Torrance was sentenced today to 12 months and one day in federal prison for stealing more than $835,000 in school funds to pay for personal expenses, including gambling trips.
A nun! Who was a principal! Is going to jail! For stealing nearly a million dollars! FROM KIDS. To go gambling!
It’s something you’d find only in bad fiction from an atheist author… or real life.
The actual story is that 80-year-old Mary Margaret Kreuper was in charge of the bank accounts for St. James Catholic School, just south of Los Angeles. As principal for 28 years, that was hardly unusual. But beginning in 2008, she began manipulating the regular reports sent to her administration by keeping some of that money for herself and never reporting it as income for the school.
She did this for over a decade, skimming about $83,000 a year from the school’s coffers. Or, as the DoJ put it, “the equivalent of the tuition of 14 different students per year.”
During this time period, her school lacked resources that the money was supposed to cover, including the costs for an awning and to pay for field trips.
In July, she pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering and was ordered to pay back the funds she stole. (According to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, she’s only paid back $10,000 so far. There’s no reason to believe she’ll be able to return the full amount.)
She also issued an apology at the time:
“I have sinned, I’ve broken the law and I have no excuses,” Kreuper said via teleconference. “My actions were in violation of my vows, my commandments, the law and, above all, the sacred trust that so many had placed in me. I was wrong and I’m profoundly sorry for the pain and suffering I’ve caused so many people.”
She’ll now spend 12 months and one day in prison, though prosecutors had been seeking a two-year sentence. U.S. District Court Judge Otis D. Wright II reduced that amount in part because of her lack of a criminal history but also because she had been a nun. Her religious title apparently makes her less of a criminal than someone else committing the same crime.
One aspect of the case that’s not being reported is how Kreuper’s crimes came to light. School officials conducted an internal audit of their funds only because it was about to get new leadership. In other words, nothing tipped them off. Had they not conducted the perfunctory review, they may never have caught this. In fact, they found out Kreuper and another nun were “involved in the personal use of a substantial amount of school funds.” (That other nun was never charged with a crime.)
But the real question is why they weren’t providing better oversight in the first place. How the hell could a “small” school just shrug off an expected $83,000 per year without digging deeper into that discrepancy?
This is ultimately one person’s crime, but it suggests a much deeper problem. Because Kreuper was a nun, far too many people trusted her when they shouldn’t have. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles even said they weren’t going to press charges because the nuns showed remorse. (Thankfully, the secular prosecutors kept moving forward.)
Kreuper took advantage of their trust to benefit herself while lying about how a “rich uncle” was funding her Vegas trips. Even now, the judge used her religious leadership as justification to reduce her time behind bars.
This isn’t just a lurid crime story. It’s a perfect example of how unearned trust in those who claim to follow God can lead to serious consequences for everyone else.