A small church in a town near Waco survived its former secretary by embezzling some $200,000.
It’s the pandemic that has rocked First Baptist Church of Elm Mott’s attendance more than the embezzlement scandal, Pastor Jeb Barr said Tuesday.
“We grew in unity and strength, until COVID hit,” Barr said. “I remember very clearly that it was October 30, 2019,” when the theft of funds from Angela Jean Rubio, 52, was discovered, he said.
Barr said his congregation “raised $26,000 in less than 24 hours” to pay a check to an air conditioning salesman who bounced because of what Rubio did. Rubio was also identified as Angela Jean Wagner in some court documents.
He said the average church attendance was 60 at the main Sunday service around the time Rubio’s theft came to light. The congregation lost a member to the scandal, Barr said. It seemed they had resisted the money-stealing secretary experiment, but the pandemic has brought average church attendance down to 25, he said.
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Rubio’s guilty plea
Rubio pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery on Friday in 19th state district court, court records show.
In her court confession, Rubio said she began spending church money without permission on February 13, 2017.
Barr said Rubio withdrew about $173,000 from church accounts and withdrew three credit cards in the church’s name without the knowledge of church leaders, charging a combined balance of about $30. 000 additional dollars.
The charge level remains the same for thefts between $150,000 and $300,000.
The church brought in former IRS financial investigator Laurel Vant to review accounting records “for several years,” Barr said. He said Vant determined how much Rubio deducted from the accounts and charged the unauthorized credit cards.
The court documents from Rubio’s plea do not stipulate any amount of restitution. Rubio and his attorney, Rod Goble, filed an “open plea of guilty in court without any recommendation,” the document says. McLennan County District Attorney Staci Johnson agreed on behalf of the state to limit the sentence to “20 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.”
Goble did not return a phone call from the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday.
Barr said Goble told her “a few weeks ago” that Rubio knew she had to return.
Rubio’s attorney also filed a document with the court as part of his guilty plea, asking that his sentence be a period of probation, accompanying either a deferred judgment or a suspended prison sentence.
Rubio’s sentencing hearing will take place on August 19, according to the court filing.
How Rubio’s theft was discovered
Barr said it was the day of her church’s fall festival in 2019 that Rubio “pulled me aside” and told her what she had done.
“We had been back and forth on checking the air conditioner replacement,” Barr said.
The cleric said Rubio “claimed she wrote the check and sent it.” But the seller said they didn’t receive it, Barr said.
“Finally, two hours before the scheduled start of our fall festival (October 30, 2019), Angela pulled me aside and confessed to stealing,” Barr said. “She said the check bounced because there was no money to cover it in the church account.”
Barr said he will speak at Rubio’s sentencing hearing. She remains free until then. There was no bond agreement associated with his guilty plea.