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Bad habit: Retired nun admits to stealing $835,000 from school to fund her gambling

By PINKY S. ICAMEN Published Jun 14, 2021 10:26 pm

From as early as 2008 until her retirement in September 2018, now-retired nun Mary Margaret Kreuper admitted to embezzling a total of $835,339 or almost P40 million. She has agreed to plead guilty to fraud and money laundering charges.

Kreuper, 79, was a principal at St. James Catholic School in Torrance, California for 28 years. During her tenure, she was responsible for money that the school received—from tuition fees to charitable donations. She also controlled financial accounts, including a savings account used to pay for the living expenses of the nuns who work for the school.

For a period of 10 years, she used the said funds to sustain her personal expenses, including her gambling trips, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

Kreuper said in her plea agreement that she diverted school funds into the St. James Convent account and the St. James savings account and used the diverted funds “to pay for expenses that the order would not have approved, much less paid for, including large gambling expenses incurred at casinos and certain credit card charges.”

To hide the scheme, the former nun—who took the vow of poverty, among other vows when she was 18 years old—said she falsified monthly and annual reports, making the administration into believing that the school’s finances were properly accounted for. 

It was also alleged that Kreuper directed school employees to alter and destroy financial records during a school audit.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the pastor of the St. James alerted parents in November 2018 that Kreuper and a fellow former teacher Sister Lana Chang, who served as vice principal for the school for 20 years, allegedly used school funds for personal use.

Few weeks after, enraged parents told The Times that both nuns drove Volvos in campus and openly spoken about the trips they had taken to Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. The nuns’ financial scheme was disclosed in a meeting at the St. James Church.

The former nun’s lawyers, Mark Byrne and David Nixon, said Kreuper was “very remorseful,” and when confronted, “she accepted full responsibility for what she had done and she cooperated completely with law enforcement and the Archdiocese."

“Unfortunately, later in her life, she has been suffering from a mental illness that clouded her judgement and caused her to do something that she otherwise would not have done,” Kreuper’s lawyers said in a statement. “She is very sorry for any harm she has caused,” they added.

Byrne and Nixon said their client served 59 years in the religious order and dedicated her life to “helping others and educating children in Archdiocesan schools.”

Kreuper is due in court on July 1, and faces up to a maximum of 40 years in a federal prison.