Former St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Catholic Church bookkeeper Margaret Carroll pleaded guilty to first-degree-felony grand theft Monday, Dec. 7, in a Manatee County courtroom. The charge stems from a series of thefts that took place between 2002 and 2007, when Carroll, 68, of Sarasota, was employed as an office assistant at the church. The amount totaled $328,952.88.
Carroll’s attorney, Derek Byrd, told Judge Gilbert Smith Jr. that he has been negotiating with the church’s attorney to reach a restitution amount. He said that he hopes to reach a negotiated plea with the State Attorney’s Office that would involve a downward departure from sentencing guidelines.
Carroll worked for the church for 17 years but was fired in August 2007, after the Diocese of Venice found financial irregularities during a routine financial review of parishes. She was arrested July 25, 2008, and charged with first-degree grand theft of more than $100,000 and less than $500,000. According to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office arrest report, Carroll is accused of spending $75,000 of the money at home-improvement stores. She also used the money to buy a new car and write more than $40,000 in checks to friends and relatives.
According to Byrd, Carroll has paid a total of $38,000 in restitution and continues to pay the church $1,000 a month. Carroll and her husband, Roland Carroll, who is retired from the Longboat Key Fire Department, are in the process of signing over the deed of a property the couple owns in Virginia, recently appraised at approximately $350,000, to the church.
Byrd said that determining an exact restitution amount has been difficult, because many of the receipts used during the investigation include both Carroll’s personal purchases and purchases for the church.
“The Carrolls have been willing to pay more than what was taken,” Byrd said. “She’s doing everything she can to make this right.”
Carroll, who remains free on a $15,000 bond, will be sentenced within 90 days. At the sentencing, Carroll will be entitled to make a statement. She will also be entitled to a separate restitution hearing.
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