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Police: Florida woman stole $500K from church, helped hide nearly $1.5M of donated funds

The funds were taken from parishioners' donations over the course of five years.

VERO BEACH, Fla. — A Vero Beach woman was arrested after police said she used more than a half million dollars of stolen church funds and helped hide nearly $1.5 million in a secret bank account for more than five years. 

The Vero Beach Police Department said its investigation started in December 2021 when the Diocese of Palm Beach contacted investigators regarding a fraudulent bank account and the possibility of misappropriated funds that happened between 2015 and 2020 at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Vero Beach.

After a nine-month fraud investigation, detectives arrested Deborah True, Holy Cross Catholic Church's former parish administrator. Investigators said they discovered that in 2012, True and a former priest with the church, Father Richard Murphy, opened a bank account in the church's name. 

But here's the catch: Police said True and Murphy didn't tell the Diocese of Palm Beach about this account. And, since 2015, bank records show nearly $1.5 million of parishioners' donations were fraudulently deposited into this secret account. 

Police said between 2015 and 2020, True used more than $500,000 of those stolen funds to pay off her own personal lines of credit. And, an additional $147,000 was taken from the account and deposited into True's personal checking account, the department said. 

Detectives said Murphy also "personally benefited" from the funds in this fake account. However, because he died in 2020, he can't be charged in the criminal investigation, police said. 

On Sept. 19, True turned herself in at the Indian River County Jail on one count of organized fraud over $50,000, police said. She has since bonded out and is awaiting trial, the department said. 

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