A longtime worker for the Archdiocese of New York has been accused of using accounting tricks to steal about $1 million from the church.
Anita Collins, 67, was arrested and arraigned Monday as a result of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s investigation.
Prosecutors said Collins, who was making between $35,000 to $50,000 a year in her job managing finances at the archdiocese office, stole consistently from the church for seven and a half years, depositing about eight checks to herself each month, except for a single month in which she made no deposits.
Investigators said she issued 450 checks for phony invoices, each deposited into bank accounts she controlled. The checks allegedly totaled less than $2,500 -- an amount that would trigger a sign-off from a supervisor.
Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said archdiocese officials uncovered what they initially believed to be at least $350,000 in stolen funds and reported their suspicions to the Manhattan DA.
As a result of the investigation conducted by the Manhattan D.A. and with the full cooperation of the archdiocese, it has been determined that the amount stolen is approximately $1 million, Zwilling said.
Collins allegedly spent $18,000 of the stolen money on furniture from Bloomingdale's, $23,000 on clothing at Barney's, $14,000 on clothing at Brooks Brothers and $19,000 on trinkets from an Irish gift store.
Collins began working for the archdiocese in 2003 and was fired Dec. 6 when the alleged fraud was discovered, Zwilling said.
"She was a very quiet woman," said Zwilling. "I know it's a cliche, but it's true in this case -- the last person anyone would expect being capable of something like this."
The Bronx woman has a criminal record for grand larceny in 1999 in an earlier job and the archdiocese never ran a background check on her, prosecutors said.
“Sadly, there will always be individuals who seek to exploit and circumvent whatever system is established, but we will remain vigilant in our oversight,” Zwilling said.
Collins' attorney, Howard Simmons, said his client couldn't control herself. "Sometimes people just can't help themselves," he said Monday. "It's like someone who gambles and can't stop gambling."
Collins remains in jail Monday evening.