Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper and Sister Lana Chang were seen as two of the strictest nuns at St James Catholic School in Torrance, California. Parents said the two nuns were big on moral fortitude and that they were very hard on kids who slipped up and broke the rules. That’s why it came as a shock to many when the two sisters were accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the school’s funds and using it to gamble in Las Vegas.
The archdiocese of Los Angeles told parents about the suspected embezzlement in a meeting on Monday evening. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Officials Say the Two Nuns Stole Half a Million Dollars from the School Over the Years
Officials in the archdiocese of Los Angeles told parents that they had proof that a Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper and Sister Lana Chang had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from the St James Catholic School in Torrance. Officials said the sisters were in charge of collecting checks and depositing them into the school’s account. But in fact, the sisters were only depositing some of the checks that came in. The rest, they were depositing into a separate account and using for their own purposes.
The sisters stole a total of $500,000, or half a million dollars, officials said. They were able to get away with it because the school was doing so well, financially, that nobody ever missed the money. Besides, both the nuns in question were in positions of trust. Kreuper was the school’s principal for 29 years. Chang was a teacher for 20 years before being promoted to vice principal.
2. Officials Say the Nuns Used Their Stolen Cash for Vacations & Gambling Sprees
On Monday, an attorney told the parents of St James students that the two nuns had used school funds as if the funds belonged to their own personal account. The attorney said the nuns had spent the money on gambling trips and on vacations.
“We do know that they had a pattern of going on trips. We do know they had a pattern of going to casinos, and the reality is, they used the account as their personal account,” the attorney told the crowd at the meeting.
3. Archdiocese Officials Say They Won’t Press Charges Since the Nuns Have Shown Remorse
The nuns’ embezzlement first came to light when Sister Mary Margaret was about to retire, according to church officials. She served as the school’s principal for 29 years. Officials said that they carried out an internal audit as a matter of routine, since the school was about to get new leadership. That’s when they started to notice irregularities in the bookkeeping.
Officials also say that as they audit started, Sister Mary Margaret started to seem very anxious — they say that she even asked people to falsify information for her. Eventually, a forensic accountant discovered that there was a half-million dollars missing from the school’s accounts.
Church officials said that both Kreuper and Chang confessed to taking the money, and expressed remorse, asking for forgiveness and prayers. The diocese had initially called the police, but after the nuns confessed they said they wouldn’t press charges against the nuns. Police said they were still carrying out their own investigation.
4. The Nuns Told Everyone That a ‘Rich Uncle’ Was Paying for Their Gambling Trips
Church officials expressed willingness to forgive the two sisters for embezzling half a million dollars from the church. But not all the parishioners were as understanding. Some of them said they couldn’t understand why the school had been operating on shoestring budget while Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana had been going on gambling sprees.
One man, whose children attend St James, grumbled that the nuns had been using the school as if it was their own private ATM. “We were an ATM, and people know it and they won’t ask for justice,” Jack Alexander, a father at the school, said. He was unhappy with the church’s decision not to prosecute. The two nuns. Alexander also pointed out that the two nuns had routinely lied to parents at the school about how they were paying for their vacations and their gambling trips.
The nuns apparently told everyone that a “rich uncle” was paying for their trips. But all the while, they were using school funds to pay for their jaunts. Alexander said, “These nuns took a vow of poverty and said, ‘Oh, no, we’ve got a rich uncle,’ ” Alexander told the paper. “The rich uncle was the parents of the St. James students.”
5. The Nuns Have Been Placed Under ‘Canonical Restrictions’ & Are Committed to Return the Stolen Funds
Kreuper and Chang are both members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. On December 10, the order issued a statement about the charges of financial misdoings. The statement pledged that the order would work with the diocese to discover the full amount that had been taken from the school; they pledged to restore all of the money that was stolen.
The statement also condemned the embezzlement, saying, “we will not defend the actions of our Sisters. What happened is wrong. Our Sisters take full responsibility for the choices they made and are subject to the law.”
The order said that they were imposing their own kind of punishment on Kreuper and on Chang: “Canonical Restrictions have been imposed. The two Sisters are removed from their residence and placed in a religious house under the supervision of community leadership. They are also removed from all public ministry.”