Casino gambling is tied to theft of $100,000 at WNY churches
The Buffalo News
05 November 2012
BY: Dan Herbeck
A nun with a casino gambling problem will be charged today with stealing more than $100,000 from two churches where she worked in Orleans County, The Buffalo News learned late Sunday.
The felony grand larceny charge will be filed against Sister Mary Anne Rapp, who in recent years has been assigned to St. Mary Catholic Church in Holley and its sister church, St. Mark, in nearby Kendall.
Sister Mary Anne is scheduled to answer the charges in Kendall Town Court this evening, Orleans County District Attorney Joseph V. Cardone confirmed Sunday night.
“This is a situation that was brought to our attention by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and has been under investigation for months by the [Orleans County] Sheriff’s Office,” Cardone said. “It’s not a situation where the sister has been living an extravagant life. I think there are indications that she has a gambling problem.”
Investigators believe that donations made by parishioners were stolen by the nun, and she has been treated for an addiction to casino gambling, sources close to the case told The News.
More detailed information is expected to be released after tonight’s court appearance.
Although there have been several cases in recent years in which at least one priest and several area church employees were caught stealing large amounts of money to finance casino gambling addictions or extravagant spending, Cardone said he does not recall any such case involving any local nuns.
“I’ve been district attorney since 1992, and I don’t remember ever prosecuting a nun for anything,” Cardone said. “I would hate to call a case like this a sign of the times. I think there were incidents that happened in years past that were handled in a different way. I’d like to think we’re more transparent about these things than we were years ago.”
Sister Mary Anne was unavailable to comment. Her attorney, James P. Harrington, told The News he could not comment on the case.
Terrence M. Connors, the lead attorney for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, said he is well aware of the case and called it unfortunate.
According to Connors, Sister Mary Anne was placed on administrative leave more than a year ago after an audit conducted by the Diocese at the request of the Rev. Mark J. Noonan, pastor of the two churches.
“This was a situation where a new pastor came in and requested an audit by the Diocese audit committee,” Connors said. “The audit turned up some irregularities, which we then reported to the Orleans County DA, so his staff could determine whether criminal charges were warranted.”
Until recently, Sister Mary Anne was listed as a “pastoral associate” at St. Mark Church in the small rural community of Kendall. On the website of the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity’s Holy Name Province, she is listed as a resident of the Stella Niagara mother house in Lewiston. Authorities said she is about 50 years old.
Investigator Corey Black handled the case for the Sheriff’s Office, Cardone said. The thefts allegedly took place over a period of months, and police believe that the amount stolen was in excess of $100,000.
While local authorities could not recall another recent case in which a nun was accused of theft, there have been a number of similar incidents involving church employees and at least one priest:
• In July 2009, the Rev. F. Norman Sullivan, 74, admitted in court that he had been stealing for years from Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Cheektowaga. While making a salary of $20,000, Sullivan admitted, he stole nearly $214,000 over a period of eight years. He owned condos in Fort Myers, Fla., and the Virgin Islands, and repaid all the money after investigators caught him.
• In June 2008, Randall Kozlowski admitted in court that he stole nearly $400,000 while keeping the books for another Cheektowaga parish, Our Lady Help of Christians. Kozlowski said he routinely wrote checks to himself to cover gambling debts.
• In July 2007, former church office manager Maureen Durrell was sentenced to six months in prison after she was convicted of stealing $488,000 from St. Christopher Church in the Town of Tonawanda. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office said she spent stolen money on lavish vacations, home improvements and family expenses.