A former Minneapolis church worker admitted Thursday to stealing more than a quarter-million dollars from her employer over the past decade, when she helped herself to additional paychecks to pay her bills.
Raenay Hendrickson, 51, of Brooklyn Park, pleaded guilty to five counts of theft by swindle over $5,000 for embezzling nearly $318,000 from the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, where she had worked for 16 years as an executive assistant, synod administrator and bookkeeper, which allowed her full access to the church's checking account, according to the Hennepin County attorney's office.
In exchange for her plea, Hendrickson is expected to receive one year and five months in prison. She is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 4. Judge William Howard will determine how much restitution she will be ordered to pay.
Prosecutors and Hendrickson's defense agreed that her embezzling dates back to at least 2002, and stopped only when she was fired in July 2012. She admitted in court to using the money to pay medical bills for her family and believed at some point that she would pay it back, while further investigation revealed she used the money to pay creditors and other third parties for her own benefit. She admitted to falsifying synod records in order to cover up her thefts, according to prosecutors.
According to its website, the Minneapolis Area Synod oversees 155 congregations across seven counties totaling more than 50,000 worshipers. Its annual budget is $3.2 million. In a letter issued to the congregations in February, Bishop Ann Svennungsen said leaders have added extra financial oversight as a result of the case. "We can assure congregants that the diligent and improved financial oversight process, which detected the misappropriation of funds, is firmly in place, ensuring responsible stewardship of gifts to the church," she wrote.