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Ex-church clerk accused of writing $129,000 in checks to herself to be arraigned Friday

January 27, 2011 | 11:29 am

A former bookkeeper accused of stealing $129,000 from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tustin by writing 154 checks to herself is scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Santa Ana.

Elyse Marie Kennedy, 37, of Santa Ana, is charged with 154 counts of forgery with sentence enhancements and allegations for aggravated white-collar crime, said Sean O’Brien, an Orange County deputy district attorney.

If convicted Kennedy, could face up to 107 years in state prison. Each forgery count carries a maximum three-year sentence, O’Brien said.

Kennedy is being held in lieu of $30,000 bail, and her arraignment is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday in Santa Ana.

Kennedy, who was in charge of St. Paul’s money accounts and financial records from 2007 to 2009, is accused of stealing the money by writing the checks to herself from the church’s bank accounts without knowledge or consent of church authorities, officials said.

In January 2009, a church employee who went to work early allegedly saw Kennedy leaving and discovered that the church's financial records were missing, O’Brien said. Kennedy later failed to show up to work, and church officials learned that funds had been withdrawn from its bank account, he said.

Kennedy was charged last August and arrested Dec. 27 in Santa Ana, O’Brien said.

When Kennedy applied to work at St. Paul’s in November 2006, she had already been convicted of grand theft in a separate 2005 case in Orange County, officials said. Church records show she denied on her hiring application of ever being convicted of a crime, they said.

"We’re a trusting group and sometimes that trust can be taken advantage of," said Mike Penn, who runs St. Paul's daily operations and worked with Kennedy. "Our concern here is to make sure that [Kennedy] doesn’t take advantage of someone else."

-- Nate Jackson