Federal indictments say the former Rockford church worker allegedly used some money for Vikings tickets.
An e-mail sent to his pastor last fall signaled the first signs of trouble that came crashing down on former church treasurer Matthew James Beise this week.
The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod sent the pastor of Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rockford, Minn., notice that its pension plan and health insurance policies were about to lapse for nonpayment of nearly $16,000.
A check of the church's bank account delivered another shock: Instead of the more than $200,000 on church ledgers, the account held just $1,200.
On Thursday, a federal grand jury indicted Beise, 36, of Delano, on five counts of mail fraud. He is accused of embezzling more than $240,000 from the church, where he was treasurer from 1998 to 2006, money he allegedly spent on personal credit card payments, jewelry, season tickets to Minnesota Vikings games and construction of his $600,000 home.
The grand jury also accused him of possessing, transmitting and receiving child pornography. Evidence for that appears to have been found during a search done as part of the embezzlement investigation. According to the pornography indictment, Beise's computer contained almost 200 images of minors engaged in sexual conduct, and the indictment alleges he had traded similar images online.
U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen ordered Beise held pending a hearing next week. Calls and e-mails seeking comment from church officials were not returned.
In a sworn statement by U.S. Postal Inspector Mary Agnew used to obtain a search warrant, the investigation began Sept. 29, 2006 when church officials contacted the Wright County Sheriff's Office.
Detective Charles Ankney contacted Beise and was told that the money had been moved to money market accounts. Beise provided records purporting to show account balances, but a check with the bank found the accounts did not exist, Ankney reported.
Ankney said the church's own bank records showed more than 100 transfers to an account under the name M. Beise. Ankney said Beise controlled accounts under his name, as well as the names of Hanover Men's Softball and Buffalo Merchant Society.
Agnew said investigators found "numerous electronic transfer deposits into Matthew Beise's personal account from the church."
Authorities said Beise was able to conceal the embezzlement because he had church bank statements mailed directly to his home and prepared false monthly reports for church officials.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service and the Wright County Sheriff's Office.
Dan Browning 612-673-4493