Lori Ramsey stole an estimated $46,000 from a local church, but if she abides by the terms of her probation, all criminal charges will be dismissed.
Ramsey, of Vienna Avenue, Niles, appeared Tuesday before Judge Lou A. D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court for a hearing to determine if she should receive treatment in lieu of conviction for stealing from Trinity United Methodist Church on Front Street while employed at the church.
Ramsey pleaded guilty as charged to felony theft and misuse of a credit card.
The theft came to light in 2011 when a church member discovered a large number of unpaid bills in Ramsey’s office and that there were about $21,000 in unauthorized checks made out to her.
Church employees also said they discovered that she took the church’s bank-debit card and withdrew about $8,000, the cash from Sunday service plate collections was never deposited, and that Ramsey charged an unspecified amount of unauthorized purchases to a church credit card.
Ramsey told the court that the thefts took place from 2009 until about May 2011 while she was employed at the church. She said she used the money to pay for needed medication and was too afraid to ask the church for help.
The Rev. Ronald Spore said the church is happy Ramsey came to speak with church officials and is abiding by the court’s orders, but the situation has made the church re-evaluate how it handles some business matters.
“We are happy that she came and spoke with us,” he said. “This was a shocking event, and it has caused us to become less trusting and set up procedures to prevent this from happening again. There are certain parts of the church that are run like a business, and you have to make provisions for that.”
Jennifer Paris, an assistant county prosecutor, said the church recouped its losses through insurance, so Ramsey will not be ordered to repay the stolen funds. She could, however, be sued in civil court.
Attorney Ted Roberts, who is a member of the church and its legal representation in this matter, said the hope is that Ramsey makes better decisions in the future.
“The church unfortunately underwent this loss, but we hope by sitting down with us, her plea and intervention will set her in the direction for more productive endeavors in the future,” he said.
Judge D’Apolito reminded Ramsey that any violation of the terms of her probation will result in much more than a “scolding.” Ramsey, upon violation of her probation, could face up to three years in prison.
Ramsey is ordered to stay out of trouble, cooperate with the church and its insurance provider, continue taking doctor-prescribed medications for an undisclosed issue and seek counseling.
“Their [the church’s] attitude is one of forgiveness and acceptance,” the judge said. “What you did is wrong, I don’t care what your psychological reasons are. You were placed in a position of trust. ... I hope you take this opportunity to get yourself straightened out.”