Ex-director accused of stealing $1.4 million from Pennsylvania clergy death fund – Episcopal News Service
[Episcopal News Service] The former administrator of the Clergy Assurance Fund, a nonprofit insurance company that has served Episcopal clergy families in Pennsylvania for centuries, is under investigation after a forensic audit found that he had embezzled more than $1.4 million from the fund.
The allegations against John Miller, who served as executive director and treasurer until March 2022, were first detailed publicly in an October 13 report by The Living Church. Internal documents cited by The Living Church and later obtained by Episcopal News Service show that Miller first drew suspicion when inappropriate credit card charges totaling more than $20,000 were uncovered.
When the chairman of the fund’s audit committee confronted Miller about the inappropriate charges in March, Miller said he mistakenly believed the charges were permitted by fund policy and that he chose to retire. rather than face dismissal, according to a summary of the case provided to the fund’s board. by Vice President James Pope in a July 11 letter. An annual financial audit found that Miller also wrote checks to himself that were “duplicates of death benefit payments to beneficiaries,” according to Pope, who is also treasurer for the Diocese of Pennsylvania.
The Clergy Assurance Fund engaged accounting firm BBD to conduct a more in-depth forensic audit. His report, dated June 28, confirmed that Miller used the duplicate checks — at least one with Pope’s signature forged — to conceal deposits of $1,425,400 into his personal checking account from January 2016 to March 2022. It also listed inappropriate credit card charges, most of which were categorized under health care and transportation expenses, such as Uber rides.
“It is shocking that Mr. Miller, a longtime employee and officer of the Clergy Assurance Fund and an active Episcopalian, has abused the trust placed in him,” Pope said in a more recent letter to policyholders, the text of which was given to the ENS by a spokesperson for the fund. “We are committed to doing everything we can to support law enforcement in their investigation of these deceptive and criminal acts.”
The Clergy Assurance Fund referred the allegations to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Messages left by ENS at the Attorney General’s office were not immediately returned and the status of any criminal investigation remains unclear.
“I was disappointed and devastated to learn of this potential fraud,” Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez said in a written statement provided to ENS and The Living Church. Gutiérrez serves as chairman of the fund’s board of trustees, which represents the state’s five episcopal dioceses. “Fortunately, it didn’t impact those seeking funds from CAF. I hope the judiciary will come to the right resolution on this.
The Clergy Assurance Fund traces its history at least as far back as 1769, when it was founded to provide financial support to the widows and orphans of priests in the colonies of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. The common fund was divided in 1806, establishing separate funds for the dioceses of each of the three states.
The Pennsylvania fund, long known as The Widows Corporation, was renamed the Clergy Assurance Fund in 2019, and it now serves beneficiaries in the dioceses of Pennsylvania, Bethlehem, Central Pennsylvania, Northwestern Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh. Its council is made up of five diocesan bishops and 35 elected volunteer members.
Online records show Miller had served as both executive director and treasurer since 2014, when former treasurer Reverend Rudy Moore died after serving in the role for 18 years.
“As Treasurer, it is my responsibility to manage the business activities of the Company and I am pleased to report that all is well and fully in order in this area,” Miller said in the 2014 Annual Report of the funds.
At that time, the fund had more than $71 million in assets, with nearly $43 million set aside to pay future death benefits. In the 2021 annual report, assets had reached nearly $82 million, although that total did not reflect the sharp decline that would hit equity markets in 2022.
Pope, in his July letter on misappropriated funds, reassured the board that the fund remained in a sound financial position. “Despite this fraud and unrelated reductions in market values during the second calendar quarter of 2022, the Clergy Assurance Fund remains very well funded,” Pope said. The fund plans to submit a claim to its insurance provider, which covers employee theft.
“There has been no disruption of services to beneficiaries, nor do we believe there will be any disruption of service as a result of this fraud, and we are taking steps to ensure that similar fraud does not cannot be committed in this way in the future.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at [email protected].