COLUMBUS – Susan Droessler, a former secretary and bookkeeper at St. Jerome Parish and School in Columbus for nine years, has been charged with one count of felony theft.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen made the announcement late Wednesday morning.
Droessler is accused of misdirecting church and school funds and spending them on herself, her family members and even her husband’s business.
While employed, she had the ability to sign or stamp signatures on checks for both the church and the school and was the only one handling the books for the church and school.
“I just think that she was a very trusted employee and had the control over the resources,” said Lt. Dennis Weiner of the Columbus Police Department. “She worked mostly for the church, but had access to funds for the church and the school. Her title was parish secretary.”
“All the amounts are not listed in the criminal complaint,” Weiner stated. “It was an extremely complex investigation that I worked on for six months,” he said. The investigation took from June through December of 2011 and Weiner said he reviewed 30,000 to 40,000 pages of documents.
He said he did not know the total amount of money that was
misappropriated and that it could not be figured out by simply adding up the details in the criminal complaint.
Exhaustive audits and investigations were conducted of church and school finances going back to 2007.
Included within the amounts believed to be misappropriated were payments for health, dental and vision benefits for Droessler’s family, “which she was not entitled to, because she did not work the appropriate number of hours,” Weiner said.
The monthly health insurance premiums were estimated to be between $1,100 and $1,300, according to the criminal complaint.
Droessler applied for the health benefits on July 15, 2004. From August of 2004 to August of 2010, St. Jerome paid out $83,698.47 in premiums for her family healthcare coverage.
Also, $9,575 should have been deducted from Droessler’s pay for school tuition for her children and was not.
Significant sums of St. Jerome funds were also paid to Wal-Mart, Capital One, AAA Financial Services, UW Madison Division of Housing and other businesses for expenses that the church did not legitimately have. According to the criminal complaint, Droessler and her family benefited from these purchases and payments.
“Sue paid the bills for the business (Droessler Chiropractic in Columbus) as well,” Weiner said. “She exclusively handled the books for the business.”
He said his investigation showed that she paid U.S. Cellular bills and bought supplies for the business with St. Jerome’s funds.
“Another outcome of the audit was it was discovered the Internal Revenue Service had not been paid the appropriate taxes, which was her responsibility,” said Weiner. “Sue was in charge of making sure they got paid and they weren’t being paid. The amount at one time including penalties and interest was well over $500,000.”
Droessler was terminated on Aug. 10, 2010, according to the criminal complaint.
“They had a new member to the parish finance council by the name of Keith Loppnow, and as a new member he reviewed the financials for the church and was very concerned that the No. 3 operating expense was labeled miscellaneous,” Weiner said.
“He came on board in January of 2010 and noticed the irregularities, and the church contacted an accounting firm to do a review of the financial records, and some improprieties were discovered,” he said.
The church involved the Diocese of Madison and its chief financial officer in the case in May 2010. The church also called the Columbus Police Department.
Weiner interviewed Droessler on Nov. 10, 2011, and said she was “shocked and cooperative.” Police then arrested Droessler.
“She acknowledged many of the things that she was asked about,” he said.
“I know that (St. Jerome has) placed some safeguards and controls in place since this has happened to prevent it from happening again, and they are moving forward,” Weiner said.
The Rev. Steven Kortendick has served as priest at St. Jerome since July 2010. He referred all comments to Brent King, director of communications and executive assistant to the Bishop for the Diocese of Madison.
King released a statement Wednesday that said, in part: “As a matter of prudent policy, the Diocese of Madison and the staff of St. Jerome, Columbus respectfully withhold further comment regarding this matter, at this time. As the Justice Department’s release reminds us, in a court of law a defendant enjoys a presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. Parish and diocesan representatives have cooperated with, and been in frequent communication with, law enforcement officials regarding this matter, since last year. We ask everyone to please keep the St. Jerome Catholic Church and School communities in your prayers, as well as Mrs. Susan Droessler and her family, during the difficult days ahead.”
Droessler will have an initial appearance in Columbia County Circuit Court on Dec. 19.
The charge of felony theft in this case is a class G felony, punishable by a fine of not more than $25,000 or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both.