Church volunteer accused of embezzling more than $500,000; making thousands of online purchases

Posted at 8:02 AM, Feb 12, 2020

A woman who worked as the financial secretary of her church has been charged with embezzling more than half a million dollars from it to pay for thousands of online purchases, car loans, satellite television, cell phone bills and even her own wedding.

Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina in New Jersey and Florence Township Police Department Officer in Charge Jonathan Greenberg announced that Taisha D. Smith DeJoseph, 43, of Willingboro, New Jersey, was charged with embezzling a total of $561,777 from St. Paul's Baptist Church where she volunteered as the financial director.

"The investigation began after officials from St. Paul's Baptist Church who suspected the theft contacted the BCPO (Burlington County Prosecutor's Office) Financial Crimes Unit," the BCPO said in a statement. "The investigation revealed that over a five-year period ending in March 2019, Smith-DeJoseph, who was responsible for overseeing the church's finances, opened electronic bank accounts for St. Paul's and used the funds for personal purposes."

NATIONAL NEWS | The latest headlines from across the country

Smith-DeJoseph, along with the reported unapproved spending, also allegedly issued payroll and supply reimbursement checks from the church's coffers and fabricated monthly financial statements to hide her tracks from other church officials.

She allegedly failed to file tax returns for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 in an attempt to hide her embezzlement scheme from the government. In 2017 she filed a fraudulent tax return. Authorities estimate that in the five-year period from 2014 to 2018, Smith-DeJoseph ended up stealing over half a million dollars -- $561,777 -- for her own personal use.

"The investigation revealed that Smith-DeJoseph used the money to pay her car loans, rent, credit card expenses, satellite television and cell phone bills, to make hundreds of online purchases and even to pay for her wedding at a Burlington County venue," said the BCPO.

Smith-DeJoseph allegedly made 2,718 PayPal purchases adding up to more than a quarter of a million dollars, 805 Amazon purchases totaling more than $22,000, wrote herself 181 unauthorized checks for more than $182,000, and left the church accounts in a negative balance 510 times in seven years, according to ABC News' Philadelphia station WPVI.

Smith-DeJoseph was charged on Tuesday with Theft by Deception, Computer Criminal Activity, Misapplication of Entrusted Property, four counts of Failure to File Personal Income Tax, five counts of Failure to Pay Income Tax, and Filing a Fraudulent Income Tax Return, according to the BCPO. The case will now be prepared for presentation to a Burlington County Grand Jury for possible indictment.

When asked about how this could have happened, Pastor Fred Jackson of St. Paul's Baptist Church spoke plainly.

"We put our trust in other people as well as in God and sometimes that trust is misplaced … it is very hurtful for the entire congregation."