Nun spared jail time for gambling, embezzlement

Nun spared jail time for gambling, embezzlement November 13, 2011

And it nearly landed her in jail.  Details:

Sister Marie Thornton gambled her life away playing the one-armed bandits in Atlantic City, losing nearly $1 million she pilfered from the coffers of upstate Iona College, where she worked as a trusted financial officer.

Sister Susie, as she is known, was spared three years in federal prison by a compassionate Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan Tuesday, after pleading guilty to one count of embezzlement.

But the 65-year-old nun has been sentenced to a lifetime of shame, shunned by Sisters of St. Joseph, the order she has served for 48 years. As an act of contrition, the lying nun spends her days and nights in solitary confinement in a small dorm-like room inside a Philadelphia convent.

She does not take her meals with the sisters, nor do her superiors allow her to work inside the Mother house doing small clerical jobs or even weeding the garden, according to court records and a source familiar with the case.

She is not allowed to leave the nunnery to visit relatives or friends or be seen in public at all. Her only escapes are trips to her therapist and group counseling.

“She can’t even go to the store and get milk,” the source said. “My belief is she will never be allowed to have contact with people again.”

The high-rolling sister holds a doctorate in education, served as an elementary-school principal and later as an assistant school superintendent for the Archdiocese of Newark, but there seems little chance the order will allow her to teach again, the source said.

For 10 years, until she was caught in 2009 for stealing $850,000 from Iona, Sister Susie would drive to the Jersey Shore on weekends, usually with an unsuspecting relative or friend, and spend the day there.

Although she didn’t have a favorite casino, her M.O. was the same: using the college corporate credit card for chips.

One weekend she blew $10,000 on the slots. Usually it was $2,000 to $5,000 a visit, the source said.

“She covered up the thousands she would lose by systematically submitting false vendor invoices for reimbursement to Iona College and submitting credit-card bills for personal expenses to be paid by Iona College,” according to US Attorney Preet Bharara.

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24 responses to “Nun spared jail time for gambling, embezzlement”

  1. You should read about the Orthodox monks who got caught stealing from libraries. Well “Orthodox.” They were not canonical, but they looked and dressed like Orthodox monks, and were walking out with ancient manuscripts.

  2. Guest House offers compassionate yet effective help for gambling addiction, as well as for addictions such as alcoholism. This sister, if her religious order would permit, could benefit greatly from treatment at our center for women religious. I will pray for her, that she receives the care she needs to return to Christ’s service.

  3. I realize she betrayed the trust of her community, but the penalty her fellow nuns have imposed on her seems terribly harsh. I don’t see a lot of compassion there.

  4. Deacon Mike,

    I agree wholeheartedly with you. What sister did was awful and shameful, but shame can be taken from a healthy, therapeutic level to an uncharitable dimension that reinforces the original shame and low self-esteem that leads to addictive disorders and reinforces them after every round of feeding the addiction.

    I too thought of Guest House. Perhaps after a thorough treatment program Sister could do her penance by serving addicts in treatment by cooking, serving, cleaning for them. For someone with a doctorate, that’s pretty humbling, but doing penance that is restorative not only for Sister, but for others as well.

    In a community that is treating her this way, I can’t help but wonder what their brand of community life did to contribute to her disorder.

  5. The NY Post offers an incomplete impression of Sister Thorton’s situation. From Reuters is this quote “Sister Connie Trainor from the order said that while Thornton must stay on the premises, her tendency toward solitary confinement is self-imposed.”
    The “rest of the story” is important.

  6. Thank you for the back story, AT. This is another example of the resurfacing of an old anti-Catholic meme: the convent as prison. It’s the press picking it up in this case; in the case of Fr Pavone, it was his non-Catholic supporters spreading lurid tales of his imprisonment in a remote desert convent surrounded by rattlesnakes. The NY Post’s readers are probably more likely, on the whole, to sympathize with Sr Susie’s addiction to the casinos and to share the unnamed source’s horror at a life so circumscribed that “she can’t even go to the store to buy milk” (!). Shades of Victorian tales of innocents being walled up alive, which were more than simple misunderstandings or Gothic literary devices: they both fed and reflected a deep strain of anti-Catholicism that had political and social consequences in the rise of the Know-Nothings and anti (Catholic) immigration acts.

    I think we will see more of this in a time when Catholic values–and I don’t just mean anti-abortion and pro-marriage, but the truly unpopular stuff like opposition to the death penalty, support of the Dream Act and other immigration reform, and advocacy of the rights of workers–are increasingly countercultural in the US.

  7. Thank you for providing the “rest of the story.” I did not realize that sister was a member of the SSJ of Philadelphia. Had I known, the treatment of her as reported in the article would have set up a red flag. (Diclaimer: My aunt is a member of the community.) Sounds like sister has some serious emotional problems in addition to the gambling addiction.

    Henceforth, I will fact-check meticulously any article from the NY Post.

  8. Back in the old days, sisters always went out in groups of two or three, so they could look out for each other and avoid temptation. It wasn’t a punishment; it was standard procedure.

    Not letting this woman go out alone to the store (where they probably sell lottery tickets) or get on the computer alone (where they have gambling websites) would seem pretty basic treatment for a gambling addiction.

  9. With our public expanding the legit venues for gambling, I’m afraid you’re going to see more of this. I don’t like the expansion of gambling.

  10. So yeah, I’d say that being asked to stay on the grounds, and not being given clerical work that demands use of the telephone and the computer is probably for the sister’s own safety from re-offending. (Clerical work is intrinsically a position of trust, and I’m shocked that people don’t realize this.)

    The other sisters may also be afraid to trust her with sharp gardening equipment, if she’s as depressed as they make it sound.

    In fact, it sounds like the sister in charge is too nice to the erring one for her own good, because an old school mother superior would have made the sister face her shame and work through it instead of sitting around brooding.

  11. AT,

    Thank you for the backstory, however…

    The self-imposed isolation is too much, and a good religious superior would see that immediately. Outside therapy does nothing if Sister is allowed to not only wallow in, but drown in an ocean of shame and humiliation. Therapy should be helping her to find integrity in the truest sense of the word. She needs to authentically integrate all of the aspects of her life, and cannot do so in solitary confinement, self-imposed or otherwise.

    The antidote to lethal humiliation is the protestation of love from her community, and the declaration that her absence from them is intolerable.

  12. I found this interesting:
    “Although she didn’t have a favorite casino, her M.O. was the same: using the college corporate credit card for chips.”

    My corporate credit card is strictly limited for business travel purposes. It will get rejected if I were to even use it at a supermarket in my neighborhood. Could they not have configured a credit card that could only be valid school purposes? And wasn’t there any sort of review of the charges on the card? Mine are reviewed. It seems like they could easily close this loop yhole.

  13. Sorry about the typos above. I meant to say “…could only be valid for school purposes?” And I meant to write loop hole.

  14. I am really surprised with such terrible news ….. but am more surprised that it was posted on this site ….
    I began to notice that this site is loosings it’s IDENTITY !!!!
    we do not want or need more of the YEllow Newspapers !!!

    By the way, i arrived to a certain human and chritian maturity that gave me the immunity not to be scandeled by any human foolishness or weakness !!! but that does not a justify the fact of exposing peoples’ sins on ” Christian ” websites !!!

  15. It is funny in the USA that if you steal $100 you go to jail, but if you steal $1 million in tax payer dollars (Stafford Loan, Pell Grant, Perkins Loan tuition payments) like this nun did, a ‘sympathetic judge’ does not punish you at all.

  16. Looks like the school tried to cover up the nun’s crimes of theft.

    “Thornton was fired as vice president of finance in 2009 when school officials learned of the crime.

    But they never contacted law enforcement. The federal probe was launched after the U.S. Department of Education was tipped off when the school revealed the missing money — without naming Thornton — in its tax filings last year.”

    Shockingly, the Iona College officials don’t want the theft to be repaid.

    “Cohen said Iona was not interested in further repayment.”

  17. Again simply quoting from Reuters: “Our sisters reached out to her and out of her own shame, she felt the need to withdraw,” Trainor said. “I don’t want it to sound like it was something from the 1500s.”
    It has been my observation of women communities that they do not abandon members of their own community. This has been true from the large numbers who left the communities in the 60’s and 70’s to those who have found themselves in addictions to alcohol, food, or as in this case, gambling.

  18. AT: To confirm your comment:
    I know someone who left her community of nuns and was given a substantial sum of money to live on until she got on her feet in her new vocation.

  19. Who says you go to jail for stealing a hundred dollars? You do not if it’s your first offense and there was no violence associated with it, and I bet it’s only after several offenses down the road one goes to jail.

  20. “Cohen said Iona was not interested in further repayment.”

    I agree that this is shocking. The books will be balanced on the backs of the students.

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