The Manhattan district attorney’s office on Monday arrested a Bronx woman who is accused of stealing more than $1 million from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York when she worked in the archdiocese’s finance office, law enforcement officials and church leaders said.
The woman, Anita Collins, 67, had been previously convicted of grand larceny in one case and had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in another case, but the archdiocese said it did not know of those legal troubles when she was hired, because she did not undergo a background check.
Ms. Collins worked at the headquarters of the archdiocese, at 1011 First Avenue in Manhattan, for more than eight years, first in accounts payable for the education finance office, and then for the chancery, the main office that manages the archdiocese’s extensive finances.
A law enforcement official said that though she appeared to colleagues as a quiet, unassuming woman, Ms. Collins used her position to carry out a sophisticated fraud that consisted in part of billing the archdiocese for nonexistent services and channeling the money into accounts she controlled. Because checks of $2,500 or less did not require approval from a supervisor, Ms. Collins kept the payments just under that amount, issuing over 450 such checks to herself over seven years, according to the official, Adam Kaufmann, the chief of investigations for the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
“Every entity has controls in place to try to protect themselves, and the sad thing is that if you’ve got a corrupt employee they’ll find a way around the controls,” he added. Most of the money, he said in an e-mail, was spent on mortgage payments and on ”a lifestyle that was not extravagant but was far beyond her lawful means.”
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the scheme diverted money “designated for the purpose of helping to provide Catholic education.”
Questions were raised during a routine audit, officials said, and Ms. Collins was confronted about the missing money in December. She was then fired.