The former employee of the archdiocese, Anita Guzzardi, 42, pleaded guilty Friday to stealing over $900,000 from her employer, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She will be sentenced at a later date.
On Friday, Guzzardi pleaded guilty in a Philadelphia courtroom to charges of theft by deception, forgery, and the unlawful use of a computer. The money, stolen between 2005 and 2011, was used to pay her credit card bills for the purchase of goods and several trips to the Caribbean and Mexico. She also used her credit card to make purchases at casinos and wrote cheques payable to "cash", presumably using the money to gamble.
Regarding her pleas of guilty, her lawyer, Louis Busico, was quoted by CBS News as saying his client always acknowledged her wrongdoing and was working hard to make amends. According to prosecutors, over $250,000 has been recovered.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia had no idea the money was missing. Nor did the church's external auditors ever notice that hundreds of thousands of dollars was missing. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the theft was discovered by an employee of American Express who wondered why the Roman Catholic Church was spending so much money at casinos. American Express contacted the Philadelphia District Attorney's office who began an investigation. Guzzardi surrendered to police last February.
Reuters reports the archdiocese has a shortfall of $17 million and has been forced to lay of 45 employees and close the church's newspaper. But the archdiocese denies the funds taken by Guzzardi are responsible for any of the deficit. The archdiocese is also facing seven civil suits from alleged sexual abuse victims.
Guzzardi was a trusted employee of the archdiocese where she began working as a clerk in 1989. As USA Today reports, she was appointed Chief Financial Officer on July 1, 2011. Two weeks later, when the fraud was discovered, she was placed on administrative leave. A week after that, she was fired.
Guzzardi's rise in the organization during the years she was stealing calls into question the financial controls in place in the archdiocese. As CFO, she would have been the person to ensure that money does not go missing.
Her lawyer told AP that his client is looking at "a few months" in jail under the sentencing guidelines. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the District Attorney's office indicates Guzzardi is subject to a maximum sentence of between 10 1/2 and 21 years.
Guzzardi is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 24.