Woman admits to embezzling church funds

By Bob Allen

ASSOCIATED BAPTIST PRESS — The former financial secretary at a Georgia Baptist association pleaded guilty Aug. 28 to stealing from her employer and was then arrested on additional charges claiming she took even more.

Tonya Renee Woodward, 52, of Dothan, AL, entered what’s referred to as a “blind guilty plea,” which means there was no agreement for sentencing. She pleaded guilty in Houston County Circuit Court to 10 felony second-degree theft charges filed against her.

Hours later, deputies served a four-count felony indictment charging Woodward with multiple first-degree theft offenses alleging she stole more than $130,000 from the Columbia Baptist Association over a four-year period.

Attorney Matt Lamere told the Dothan Eagle his client was unaware of the additional charges when she entered the guilty plea. “I’m a little bit disappointed I wasn’t informed about the indictments,” Lamere said.

Dothan police arrested Woodward Oct. 8, 2012, on charges alleging that she stole $8,061.75 over a four-month period from the 53-church association with an annual budget of just under $350,000. She faces sentencing Oct. 16 and could serve from one to 10 years in prison on each of the 10 Class C felony crimes of second-degree theft of property.

In a report to Columbia Baptist Association last fall, administrative team chairman Allen Singley told messengers that the association’s director of missions found money missing and by her own admission it was determined that the financial secretary took the funds.

Director of Missions Jerry Grandstaff said in his report that “he has never been more disappointed, more taken advantage of, more hurt, more grieved and more embarrassed” than he had been in the previous two weeks, according to minutes from the Columbia Baptist Association annual fall meeting Oct. 15 at Selma Baptist Church.

Houston County District Attorney Doug Valeska told the Dothan newspaper that in her statement to police, Woodward said “the devil made her do it.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.


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