Local News

Church Secretary Charged With Embezzlement

Posted February 1, 2007 8:04 a.m. EST
Updated February 1, 2007 6:25 p.m. EST

— An employee of a Raleigh church was arrested Wednesday and charged with stealing more than $170,000 from the church, police said.

Anita Copeland, 48, of 2525 Big Sky Lane in Raleigh, is charged with embezzlement in connection with the theft of $171,000 from Ridge Road Baptist Church, authorities said. She had worked at the church as an administrative assistant for almost a decade, police said.

"Everybody liked and respected her, and there are a lot of emotions running through the church right now -- shock, anger, disbelief, but primarily disappointment," church member Phil Kirk said.

Church leaders noticed problems with their finances in November and called police to investigate. They said Copeland suddenly resigned, telling them she was moving from Raleigh to Georgia.

"This has taken place for a number of years, probably in the neighborhood of four or five years," said Jim Sughrue, spokesman for the Raleigh Police Department. "It involved the suspect diverting funds from the church account to pay for things she had personally acquired."

Copeland, who has no previous record, left jail Thursday morning under a pre-trial release program.

"Please don't do this to me an my family," she told WRAL when asked to comment on the case.

Ridge Road Baptist leaders said the embezzlement loss amounts to more than half of the church's annual budget, and they plant to do whatever it takes under the law to get the money back.

They also plan to develop a system of checks and balances in their accounting systems so that such a theft doesn't happen again. An outside auditor will look at church finances on a regular basis, they said.

"Ridge Road is a small church, and we, like a lot of churches, even the large ones, have been struggling financially," Kirk said.