LOS ANGELES (CN) — A federal judge sentenced an 80-year-old nun to a year in prison after she confessed to stealing more than $800,000 from the elementary school where she worked as principal to, among other things, fund her gambling trips to Las Vegas.
Mary Margaret Kreuper must also pay $825,338 in restitution, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.
Kreuper pleaded guilty in 2021 to embezzling money from St. James Catholic School, in Torrance, California, where, as the principal for 28 years, she was responsible for the funds the school received for tuition, fees and from charitable donations. She diverted the money from the school's bank accounts “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,” according to the government.
Federal prosecutors had asked for a two-year prison term in their sentencing papers.
"She is very remorseful and sorry for what she did," Kreuper's attorney Mark Byrne said. "She apologizes to the court and to the school community."
For about 10 years, starting in 2008, Kreuper took a cut from the checks and cash payments she received from students' parents. She then falsified the school's monthly and annual financial reports to hide the theft and told parents the school didn't have money for field trips or to build an awning, according to the government.
Byrne said that notwithstanding Kreuper's admission of guilt, 44 people had written letters to the judge in support of her.
Kreuper's scheme came to light when she announced her retirement in 2018 and the school started an audit to prepare for the transition. To hide the missing money, Kreuper directed two school employees to lie, destroy records and delete documents, according to court filings. These employees alerted the school's administration, which launched a formal investigation.
When she was interviewed by the Archdiocese in September 2018, Kreuper admitted stealing the school's money but felt her actions were justified because priests were paid more than nuns, according to court filings. She claimed diverting the school funds was her way of raising her salary and that she used the money to travel, eat out with friends and gamble in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and Temecula.
"Defendant’s scheme was methodical. It was not an accident," the government said in its sentencing memorandum. "Rather, she took step after step to steal over $800,000. Each time she stole a check, deposited into the secret bank accounts, withdrew the funds to spend them on herself, and then lied on annual reports, defendant was executing this scheme."
Kreuper's crime was all the more serious because of the position of trust she occupied at the school, the prosecutors said. She had been a leader in the community, and the other teachers, the parents who volunteered at the school, and the students she saw every day had all placed their trust in her, they said.
"Defendant flagrantly violated and undermined the school’s mission by stealing from the school. In so doing, defendant betrayed the morals and values that the school was founded on and that the administrators were tasked with imparting to the students," according to the government.
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