LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Two Catholic school nuns in California have admitted to embezzling about US$500,000, and using the funds over the years for travel and gambling in Las Vegas, their order said on Monday (Dec 10).
Sisters Mary Margaret Kreuper and Lana Chang, who are said to be best friends, took the money from tuition, fees and donations at St James Catholic School in Torrance, south of Los Angeles.
"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," an attorney for the school told parents and alumni at a recent meeting, the Press-Telegram reported.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles said the missing money was discovered during a routine audit and it is believed the nuns operated their scheme over at least a decade.
Kreuper was principal at the school for 29 years until her retirement earlier this year. Chang was a teacher for 20 years and she also retired this year.
"Our community is concerned and saddened by this situation and regret any injury to our long relationship with the families of the school," the Sister of St Joseph of Carondelet, the nuns' order, said in a statement sent to AFP.
"The Sisters of St Joseph both desire and intend to make complete restitution to St James School."
Parents were informed about the nuns' misdeeds in a Nov 28 letter from the school's pastor, Monsignor Michael Meyers.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, states that Kreuper and Chang had taken a "substantial" amount of school funds for their personal use and the matter was uncovered during an audit conducted after Kreuper's retirement.
"Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana have expressed to me and asked that I convey to you, the deep remorse they each feel for their actions and ask for your forgiveness and prayers," Meyers wrote. "They and their order pray that you have not lost trust or faith in the educators and administrators of the school."
He added that no other school staff were implicated in the theft and that police had been alerted.
Meyers said the school did not wish to pursue criminal proceedings against the pair, who spent decades as students' moral enforcers.
However, Adrian Alarcon, the head of media relations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told AFP on Monday that the Archdiocese didn't want to just let the matter drop and planned to "become a complaining party".
The nuns allegedly got away with their crime by depositing some checks made out to the school for tuition and other fees into a bank account different than the one used by the school.
Meyers told parents in his letter that the two Sisters were cooperating with an investigation to determine the full amount of misappropriated funds.
"I want to assure you that the investigation has disclosed that, notwithstanding this misappropriation, no student or programme at St James has suffered any loss of educational resources, opportunities, or innovations," he added.
"In sum, the education of your children has not and will not be affected by these events."