Hopewell woman charged with embezzling $500,000 from church
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Aug 9, 2013, 13:57
CHESTERFIELD — A Hopewell woman faces 14 embezzlement charges after police say she took upwards of $500,000 from the Chester United Methodist Church.
Jerri Hunter, 39, was arrested on Monday, July 29. Chesterfield authorities said she stole the money over the course of several years while she was employed as the church’s financial administrator.
Hunter has been charged with 14 felony counts of embezzlement, which allegedly occurred between July 6, 2012, and May 17, 2013, where at least one offense occurred each month, according to court documents.
Although the criminal charges only date back to July 2012, Harold Crowder, with the Chester United Methodist Church, said Hunter’s illegal activities date back even further, and that the exact total of embezzled funds is yet to be determined.
“What we have uncovered so far has taken us back to late 2008,” Crowder said
Hunter, who was fired from the church in May of this year for unrelated reasons, began working for the church in May 2007, Crowder said.
There was a period of several weeks in between Hunter’s termination from the church and the beginning of the Chesterfield police investigation.
When Hunter was terminated, a group of volunteers from the church looked through the accounting books to help the church understand their available budget and accounting history, Crowder said.
It wasn’t until further investigation into the books that they suspected Hunter of stealing money from them and they called the police department, he added.
Crowder said that Hunter had multiple access points through which she could embezzle church funds because her duties as financial administrator required her to be responsible for church accounts, electronic fund transfers and church credit card payments.
The church, with a membership of more than 1,300 people, has been blindsided by the embezzlement, Crowder said.
“We were completely surprised and taken aback by this because it was a person that has worked elbow to elbow with other patrons of the church. ... We’re trying to understand it, trying to have compassion. ... We’re in prayer for everyone that’s been affected by it,” he said.
Worldwide ecclesiastical crime, or the misappropriation of monetary church donations, is estimated to total $60 billion per year by 2025, according to the Status of Global Mission Report released in January by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.
Hunter, from the 1200 block of West City Point Road, is being held at the Riverside Regional Jail.
She is also the owner of Gotta Have It Fashions & Bags, a clothing and accessory store located in Petersburg.