A little old Irish lady from The Bronx who worked as a bookkeeper for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York stole an amazing $1 million dollars over several years, police say.
Anita Collins spent $19,000 of her ill-gotten gains at an Irish gift shop, $23,000 at Barney’s $18,000 at Bloomingdales and $14,000 at Brooks Brothers.
Collins appeared in handcuffs and wearing a crucifix in court in New York when she was arraigned. She was described as an ‘evil church lady’ by the prosecution.
Collins, described as shy and retiring, had a previous conviction for grand larceny but no background check was done when she was hired and she took full advantage of the Archdiocese's oversight.
She worked in the Archdiocesan finance office and played out a clever scam. She billed the diocese for non-existent services and then placed the money in accounts she controlled.
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Because she knew that checks over $2,500 were automatically queried, she kept the amounts under that figure.
She spent the money on mortgage payments and a lifestyle far beyond her means, investigators said. Fifty boxes of goods were removed from her residence in The Bronx.
Her thefts came to light during a routine audit and she was confronted by church authorities in December. She was then fired.
A background check then revealed that in 1999 she was arrested and charged with stealing $46,000 from an employment agency. She pleaded guilty and got five years probation.
However, when she applied for the job with the archdiocese, her background was never checked.
She served as a volunteer in St.Patrick’s Cathedral and was praised in the Catholic New York archdiocesan newspaper on one occasion when she took part in a ceremony welcoming 600 new Catholics to the church.
The paper wrote that ”One of the many people that helped make the day a success was Anita Collins, who works in the archdiocesan chancery and finance department and was serving as a volunteer at the cathedral.
"It's a wonderful day for the Church of New York and it's great to see this new blood entering the Church," she said. "Seeing people coming into the faith makes me feel good because my faith has always been a steadfast part of my life, and to me it's very heartwarming to see this. I think it's marvelous and I just love it."