Retired nun to plead guilty to stealing $835K from Catholic school

LOS ANGELES — A now-retired nun plans to plead guilty to charges that she stole more than $835,000 during 10 years of her tenure as principal of St. James Catholic School in Torrance, California, federal prosecutors said.

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Authorities on Tuesday charged Mary Margaret Kreuper, 79, with one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering in connection with the theft. Kreuper worked as a principal at St. James Catholic School from 1990 until 2018, when she retired, according to prosecutors.

“For a period of 10 years ending in September 2018, Kreuper embezzled money from St. James Catholic School,” officials said Tuesday in a news release.

“Kreuper, who as a nun had taken a vow of poverty, diverted school funds into the St. James Convent Account and the St. James Savings Account and then, as she admitted in her plea agreement, used the diverted funds ‘to pay for expenses that the order would not have approved, much less paid for, including large gambling expenses incurred at casinos and certain credit card charges.’”

Authorities said Kreuper was responsible for money sent to St. James Catholic School to cover tuition and fees, as well as charitable contributions to the school. She controlled bank accounts for the school, including a savings account and an account established to pay the living expenses of nuns employed by the school, according to officials.

Prosecutors said Kreuper admitted to having falsified monthly and annual reports to hide missing funds from school administration officials. Authorities said she also directed school employees to alter and destroy financial records during a school audit.

“(She) lulled St. James School and the Administration into believing that the school’s finances were being properly accounted for and its financial assets properly safeguarded, which, in turn, allowed defendant Kreuper to maintain her access and control of the school’s finances and accounts and, thus, continue operating the fraudulent scheme,” officials said.

In a statement obtained by The Washington Post, Kreuper’s attorneys, Mark A. Byrne and Daniel V. Nixon, said she was “sorry for any harm she has caused.”

“As soon as she was confronted, she accepted full responsibility for what she had done and she has cooperated completely with law enforcement and the Archdiocese,” the statement said, according to the Post. “Later in her life she has been suffering from a mental illness that clouded her judgment and caused her to do something that she otherwise would not have done.”

The theft was discovered in 2018 during financial reviews following a change in leadership at St. James Catholic School. However, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles declined to pursue charges at the time, the Los Angeles Times reported. Sister Lana Chang, a longtime teacher-turned-vice principal at the school who retired around the same time as Kreuper, was also implicated in the scheme, according to the Times. It was not immediately clear whether Chang was expected to face charges.

Kreuper is expected to appear in court for an arraignment on July 1.

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