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Dorothy Nicolo, treasurer for Aenon Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida, stands accused of using church funds to pay for personal goods and vacations.
Karl Etters, a reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat, writes:
For the past five years, investigators say, Dorothy Nicolo used the bank accounts of Aenon Baptist Church like her own pocketbook.
The 70-year-old paid for vacations, shopping sprees and a lifestyle beyond her means with the $119,000 she is accused of stealing from the west Leon County church.
Nicolo, who served as the church’s volunteer treasurer for 24 years, was arrested Wednesday by the Leon County Sheriff’s Office on 40 felony counts that include grand theft of more than $100,000, scheme to defraud, fraudulent use of a credit card and forgery.
Church leadership caught onto the thievery when it went to repave its parking lot.
Heavy machinery to be used was delivered to the church on a Sunday in September. Nicolo asked why it was there and told several people the church did not have enough money to complete the $30,000 project, according to court records.
The church only had about $20,000, a fraction of what should have been available.
Nicolo had been altering the monthly expenditure records to conceal the purchases and money she was funneling from two bank accounts, according to court records. Church officials never noticed the discrepancies because Nicolo had financial statements mailed to her house.
Nicolo, who worked at Florida State University as a secretary for 30 years, was confronted about the thefts and admitted to Pastor Jason Whitelock to using the church’s credit cards.
“I know I was wrong, I’ve admitted it and I’m very sorry about it,” she told investigators. “It just seemed easy and I lost my sense of judgment.”
She spoke in front of the church’s congregation in October, asking for forgiveness and promising to repay the money.
The letter she read aloud is included in court records. Nicolo said she’d worked out a repayment budget and offered $5,000 in inheritance money as a down payment. She told Whitelock she’d tried to pay back the money incrementally by putting cash in the collection plate, but he told investigators there was no indication that had occurred.
Once the scheme was uncovered, Nicolo began to return to the church items she purchased with the stolen money.
Court records indicate Nicolo returned: 427 rolls of yarn, two shotguns, two Canon cameras, 86 Sea World picture frames, 158 stuffed animals, theme park cups, 76 assorted coffee mugs, acrylic bears and ceramic animal figurines, 234 bags and purses, 52 shirts and jackets, cell phone chargers and accessories, luggage and an Apple Watch.
She told investigators she’d used the church’s money to fund trips to Sea World, Disney World, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and made purchases in Cozumel while on a cruise.