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Couple Accused of Stealing from School and Church Gets ARD
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            The Macungie couple accused of stealing between $148,500 and $190,728 from St. Francis Academy in Bally and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown over seven years won't face immediate criminal charges in Berks County court. Thomas James Murphy, 65, and Ann Marie Murphy, 62, were placed in an Accelerated Disposition Program after repaying St. Francis Academy $148,500, according to Charles Prutzman, an assistant district attorney. He said Thomas and Ann Marie Murphy have the opportunity to get the incident expunged if they each successfully complete 24 months of probation.

            According to Prutzman, they can avoid criminal prosecution on four felony and two misdemeanor charges by contacting their probation officer regularly, completing 100 hours of community service "and generally behave themselves" for two years. He explained Monday afternoon that the couple was eligible for the pre-trial diversionary program – utilized mostly by first-time DUI offenders – because both were first-time offenders and that they paid back a sum of money deemed to be appropriate by the DA's office, to the academy.

            An employee at the law firm employing the attorney defending the couple – listed on a state judicial website as Jacob Thomas Thielen, of O'KeefeMiller & Thielen, P.C. in Fleetwood – declined to comment.

            Both parties reached an agreement Aug. 12, according to Prutzman. He said the couple came up with the payment in late summer.

            The case could be dismissed after the couple completes its probation. Meanwhile, the charges remain in a period of stasis, according to the prosecutor. However, he said that if Thomas and Ann Marie Murphy "do not behave themselves," the charges could be reinstated.

            In March, Thomas and Ann Marie Murphy, 62, were arrested and charged with theft by deception, theft by failure to make the required deposits, receiving stolen property and a related conspiracy charge and secure execution of documents by deception and a related conspiracy charge.

            The defendants are accused of knowingly and intentionally defrauding members of the St. Francis Academy community, parishioners of the Most Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church, also in Bally, and the diocese between 2011 and 2018.

            A Sept. 17 complaint from the diocese's law firm to Berks County Detectives, alleging that the principal of the academy misappropriated $150,000 triggered the investigation, according to multiple police criminal complaints filed March 27 in the court.

            The Diocese noticed the irregularities during an internal audit in August 2018, according to a news release posted on its website. It then performed a forensic audit, and turned the results of that audit over to the Berks County DA in mid-September. The Diocese then removed Murphy as principal on Oct. 5.

             "Our financial audits are designed to ensure that the funds entrusted to us by parishioners, school parents and donors are used for the intended purpose," said Mark E. Smith, chief financial officer for the Diocese. He said it will pursue restitution.

            The audit determined that Thomas Murphy, the former 25-year principal of the school at 668 Pine Street in Bally who took care of the school's business and bills, maintained and used a separate checking account that was not included in the school's regular financial records. Further, it was determined that the administrator, who also served as deacon at the Most Blessed Sacrament Parish held a credit card in the name of the school, which he used primarily for personal reasons, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

            The former principal utilized the checking account – which funded by donations and reimbursements and supposed to be used for the school lunch program, aftercare, field trips and miscellaneous minor school expenses – to make payments to a Chase credit card account. Auditors determined that Thomas James and Ann Marie Murphy made $226,367.76 worth of purchase between 2011 and 2018. Law enforcement officials identified $148,500 of those purchases, as "personal," $35,637.88 as "school" and $42,229.78 as "other," according to law enforcement officials.

            The arresting officer, assigned to the county's major crime's unit, found payments to Apple Vacations ($2,029.48 on July 25, 2011), CTR for oral surgery ($1,669 on June 23, 2014), ($3,003.47 in July of 2012), Hilton Gardens Inns (more than $700 between December 2012 and July 2016) and Midland Credit ($213.07 in June of 2012).

            Most of the purchases were made in Lehigh County. Several purchases were made in Montgomery County. The Berks County locations where Thomas or Anne Marie used the Chase credit card include the Main Street Pub. Bally Hotel, Redner's, and Alfredo Ristorante in Bally. The Barto locations include the Pied Piper Diner and Wendy's Flowers in Barto. The card was also used at Bob Seidel's Auto in Bechtelsville and Josh's Pizza in Boyertown, according to the legal document.

            Several other purchases were made in and around Breezy Point in Queens, a borough in New York City. The list includes Bay House ($674.01 in 2011 and 2012), Ragtime Gourmet ($57.97 in 2016), Blue Beach Nail ($56.50 in 2016), Breezy Wine and Liquor ($25.03 in 2016) and Home Depot ($87.46 in 2018), court records state.

            Thomas and Ann Marie Murphy moved to Bally from Breezy Point 25 years ago. Their home there was destroyed by Super Storm Sandy in October of 2012 and was rebuilt piecemeal by family members, according to law enforcement officials.

            During an Oct. 10, 2018 interview with detectives, Ann Marie said she used the school credit card by accident for personal purchases because it looks just like her personal Chase credit card. However, they took no steps to make sure this would not happen again, and Ann Marie continuously made this mistake for a total of $23,000. Thomas Murphy agreed to a question from investigators that he was simply living beyond his means. He also admitted to using the credit card for purchasing items that, in hindsight, he should have gotten permission from his employer, according to court records.

            During a second interview, on Nov. 2, the couple admitted to knowingly using the Chase credit card for personal use. Thomas said he did not think he was doing anything wrong because he kept the school's budget. He reviewed his credit card statements, line by line, and determined that $124,052 worth of purchases were made for personal use or fit in the grey area category, the legal document states.

            Investigators communicated with eight individuals who made donations to the school or to the Jerry Melcher Scholarship Fund, some of which were co-mingled with an account handled by Thomas Murphy. Three contributors to the scholarship fund expressed surprise and dismay that their contributions possibly did not get to the children in need, according to the legal paperwork.





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