Stealing from church to gamble

July 3, 2012 9:28 am

The former chief financial officer at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia pleaded guilty to stealing more than $900,000 from her employer and using a chunk of the money to gamble.

Anita Guzzardi, 43, used dozens of checks written from the Archdiocese to pay her American Express and Chase credit card bills during a seven-year period. Amex alerted the Archdiocese to the suspicious activity. A review of Guzzardi’s credit card expenses showed that nearly $400,000 in charges were composed of cash advances and purchases at casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Key West, as well as in the Caribbean and Mexico, authorities said. She also wrote checks payable to herself. Guzzardi faces up to 10 1/2 to 21 years in prison when she is sentenced Aug. 24.

Sadly, stealing from churches and other employers to feed a gambling addiction is not that uncommon. If anything a recent string of cases underscore how addictive casinos can be for many gamblers who – like other addicts – will go to great lengths to feed their addiction. The costs of such addiction is far-reaching, and largely ignored by casinos and elected officials who increasingly tout the benefits of gambling.

A pastor and his wife in Texas were arrested last month and charged with stealing more than $400,000 from the church to pay for casino junkets. A Roman Catholic priest in Las Vegas was sentenced earlier this year to three years in prison and ordered to re-pay the roughly $650,000 he stole from the church to feed his addiction to slot machines. (The church was forced to dip into its endowment to pay bills.)

A priest in South Florida was suspended in May after he was captured on video playing slots for nearly 13 hours at a casino in Miami. The priest denied stealing from the church to fund his gambling habit but disclosed that he had filed for bankruptcy last year and is facing foreclosure  on his house. A priest outside of Chicago was convicted last year of stealing $300,000 from the St. Walter Church.

The high-flying nun

November 14, 2011 11:55 am

A nun who worked in the finance department at Iona College escaped serving any prison time after begging for mercy after stealing $1 million from the school to support her gambling habit.

Sister Marie Thornton – known as Sister Susie -embezzled the money over 10 years from the Catholic college in New Rochelle, N.Y. where she worked as a financial officer. She spent the money playing slot machines in Atlantic City, often losing up to $5,000 during a visit. The university did not report the theft to law enforcement but tried to claim the loss on its taxes, prompting a federal probe. Sister Susie pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement, but a federal judge in Manhattan sentenced her to probation.

The theft once again underscores the powerful addictive nature of gambling. When a nun is driven to steal $1 million then gambling has obviously taken control of her life. Sister Susie had to travel several hours to get to Atlantic City, but look for an increase in problem gamblers as more casinos open across the country, making it easier for people to play and lose big.