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Published: Tuesday, 2/14/2006

Accused church thief remains in congregation

NAPOLEON - A woman accused of taking about $143,000 during her tenure as a Napoleon church office worker remains an active church member who still attends services, her pastor said yesterday.

Priscilla J. Garbers, a 61-year-old widow, was charged Feb. 6 and arraigned Thursday on one count of felony theft. The third-degree felony carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine, said Napoleon police Detective Michael Cass, who is investigating the case. Ms. Garbers' next court appearance will be a preliminary hearing Feb. 21 in Napoleon Municipal Court.

Her attorney, E. Charles Bates of Defiance, said he will likely ask to waive the hearing and meet with the prosecutor.

"That gives us a chance to talk about what resolution may be reached," he said. In the meantime, Ms. Garbers remains free on her own recognizance.

Detective Cass said the money belonging to St. Paul Lutheran Church went missing during 2004 and '05. Ms. Garbers allegedly created fictitious vendor accounts in the church's computer system, writing checks and making herself the payee, the detective said. "The church uncovered most of it for us," he said. "It didn't take us too long to get everything wrapped up."

The thefts were found after she quit that position, when other church employees were doing some record-keeping, the detective said.

Peter Marcis, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran, declined to comment on the church's investigation beyond a brief statement that "all parties involved are fully cooperating with the authorities." He said Ms. Garbers remains a member and attends services.

The allegation has hit Ms. Garbers hard.

"She is having a tough time," Mr. Bates said. "These are difficult accusations, and it's a difficult time for her."

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