Hudson church volunteer accused of skimming cash
A 64-year-old woman with a history of criminal convictions in St. Croix County faces new charges after allegedly stealing thousands of dollars in collection offerings from a Hudson church.
Authorities suspect Kathryn R. Burge likely pocketed money while passing through the St. Patrick's Catholic Church confessional on her way to a room where the funds were to be placed into cash bags, according to the charging document.
St. Croix County prosecutors charged Burge July 11 with two counts of misdemeanor theft and one count of obstructing an officer.
Though the charges represent thefts not exceeding $2,500, authorities suspect Burge is responsible for about $40,000 in stolen funds, a criminal complaint states.
In a letter to parishioners, Parish Administrator Steve Richter said the incident led to a change in how cash is handled at the church. The stolen donations were made by adults and children, he wrote.
"This event should not reflect poorly on our good and honest volunteers who are the backbone of our parish," Richter wrote in the letter, which notes that a sealed, tamper-resistant bag is now being used during services.
According to the complaint:
Hudson police began investigating theft reports at the church in August 2016, when officials reported money was disappearing after being handled by two sacristans. Sacristans are church volunteers who handle communion items and briefly handle collection-plate funds.
Church officials secretly placed bills that had been photocopied into the collection plate during several services in August 2016. A total of $390 was reported missing during that period, of which Burge was working each mass.
Richter provided police with a map of the most direct route sacristans can take to the sacristy, where the money is placed in the cash bag. Burge was witnessed taking a route through St. Patrick's confessional area during a service when she was in possession of the entire cash collection.
Church officials also documented the incident in photographs that were turned over to police. The church also told police that the loose-cash collections amount had diminished each year since Burge began serving as a sacristan in 2012. The four-year decrease was nearly $12,000, which didn't factor in suspected thefts from raffle ticket sales, advent book sales and Bible study sign-ups.
"It is estimated that Burge has taken approximately $40,000 over the course of four years," the complaint states.
Police interviewed Burge in September 2016 at her house. The detective mentioned to her a 2003 misdemeanor theft conviction stemming from a theft at St. Patrick's school. Burge's criminal history also includes two felony forgery convictions in 2003.
The detective confronted Burge with the allegation that she stole $40,000, to which she replied, "No way."
"I asked her if it's not $40,000, how much it is and she replied she did not know but knows it's 'not $40,000,'" the complaint states.
When asked how much was taken and over what duration, Burge told the detective she would call her later when she was ready to talk again.
She's set to appear in court Oct. 5.