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Former church chairman indicted in theft of $11.5 million in church money

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(Los Angeles Times)

The former chairman of the board for the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, Los Angeles, has been indicted in the theft of more than $11 million in church money.

According to a federal grand jury indictment released Monday, Charles T. Sebesta, 54, used the money on personal expenses including the purchase of a house and a membership to Club 33 — an exclusive Disneyland dining club. He was charged with six counts of wire fraud, five counts of bank fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft.

According to the Department of Justice, Sebesta stole a total of $11,438,213 from church assets and $34,032 from a private high school that also employed him.

Sebesta was hired in 2001 as the church’s facilities manager. The indictment states that in 2005, he joined the church and served as its local chairman, controlling the church’s financial assets and operations. From 2005 to 2016, Sebesta allegedly directed the church to make payments to fake companies’ bank accounts that he had opened.

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“To further conceal these payments, Sebesta allegedly forged a church member’s signature on numerous checks drawn against the church’s bank accounts,” U.S. Atty. Nicola T. Hanna wrote in a statement.

In 2008, Sebesta oversaw the sale of church property in Hollywood and siphoned a significant majority of about $12.8 million in proceeds for personal use, prosecutors said. The indictment alleges that Sebesta recorded his thefts in church records as “donations.”

According to the indictment, Sebesta wired $1.86 million and $309,622 in church money toward his own personal tax accounts in 2009 and 2010. His goal was to allegedly generate over-payment refunds to himself from the U.S. Treasury and the California Franchise Tax Board.

In 2014, Sebesta and his assistant at the time were charged with grand theft in connection with the theft of funds from the Catholic missionary group Lay Mission-Helpers Assn. According to a lawsuit, the pair had set up a bank account in the name of Sebesta’s son, and created fake email accounts and invoices to divert about $177,900.

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At the time, the two agreed to an $869,000 civil settlement.

If convicted on all charges, Sebesta faced a statutory maximum sentence of more than 250 years in federal prison.


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