A former church employee stole more than $33,000 from a Mendota church to fund his gambling habit, according to charges filed by the Dakota County Attorney's Office.

Christopher Paul Seiple, 48, of New Brighton, has been charged with four felony counts of theft by swindle for allegedly writing fraudulent checks to vendors and then depositing them in his own bank account.

Seiple admitted that he had written the checks and put them in his own account, the criminal complaint said. When asked why he had stolen the funds, Seiple said he was behind on his mortgage and had been buying up to $400 worth of scratch-off tickets daily, the complaint said.

Seiple's first court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 7. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison for each count.

According to the complaint, the alleged embezzlement was discovered last month during an audit of the financial records at St. Peter's Catholic Church. Seiple had been the church's director of operations but was no longer employed there at the time the theft was discovered, the complaint said.

Several checks were found that Seiple had issued to vendors on behalf of the church for invoices that had already been paid. The checks were deposited into Seiple's personal bank account using a mobile application from November 2018 to May 2019, the complaint said, and totaled more than $33,000.

Each of the four counts represented more than $5,000 in alleged swindles, grouped into four time frames.

The theft was discovered relatively quickly and St. Peter's had insurance to cover the loss, parish officials said in a news release. They said the case was still under investigation and that they were cooperating with authorities, and encouraged parishioners to pray for those involved.

"We are sorry this embezzlement happened on our watch," parish officials said. "We are committed to being more effective administrators, and we are working with our consultant to insure we are employing best accounting practices in the day-to-day business operations of the parish we all love so deeply."

St. Peter's is considered the oldest Catholic church in what is now Minnesota. It was founded in 1840 by a group of 185 Catholics in a log cabin in Mendota, according to the archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Spirit.

"The theft of any amount of funds from a faith community is deeply disturbing," County Attorney James Backstrom said in a statement.