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Woman pleads guilty to skimming from nuns

By Brett Barrouquere
Associated Press / April 2, 2012
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LOUISVILLE, Ky.—A former bookkeeper for the Little Sisters of the Poor pleaded guilty Monday to embezzling more than $300,000 from the charity and using the money to buy herself a new car, among other items.

Mary "Kathy" Montfort, 54, admitted during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Louisville that she pilfered $364,135 from the charitable organization by forging the names of nuns in writing 43 checks on the organization's account between April 2010 and November 2011. She faced 16 charges, including forging checks and money laundering.

U.S. District Judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr., set a sentencing date on July 2. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Calhoun told the court that Montfort faces 27 to 36 months in federal prison.

The charges arose in November when a nun with Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate St. Joseph's Home for the Aged in Louisville, called police to report suspicions that Montfort was embezzling from the organization. The nun, identified only as "M.C." in a criminal complaint, told federal officers that Fifth Third Bank called to verify a $14,742 check deposited in an account belonging to one of Montfort's relatives while Montfort was on vacation.

Investigators determined the check was fraudulent and the bank conducted a review and found 43 checks totaling $200,294 paid to a relative of Montfort's from April 7, 2010 through Nov. 10, 2011. Prosecutors say Montfort bought a 2010 Ford Fusion and a 2008 Mercury Grand Marquis with the money. Calhoun said both vehicles will be forfeited as part of the agreement.

Montfort left the courtroom without speaking to reporters. Her attorney, William Butler, said Montfort wanted to "step up" and plead guilty.

"She takes responsibility for what she did," Butler said. "She's extremely sorry she did this."

Two members of Little Sisters of the Poor, Sister Maureen Courtney, the administrator of the home, and Sister Isabel Londono, mother superior of the order, sat silently as the bookkeeper they once trusted admitted to defrauding them.

"Emotionally, it's a drain," Courtney said after the hearing.

"They put so much confidence in her," Londono said. "Not only the staff, but the residents."

During the plea hearing, Montfort said little as McKinley walked her through a series of questions about whether she understood the plea and consequences of entering it. As part of the agreement, Montfort pledged to repay the money, make a financial disclosure to prosecutors and waive all rights to appeal the sentence in the case.

"After I sentence you, you're giving up your right to do anything else," McKinley said. "Do you understand that?"

"Yes, sir," Montfort answered.

Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. McKinley pointed out that he could order Montfort to serve consecutive maximum sentences on each count for a total of 160 years in prison, but added "I'm sure I'm not going to do that."

"I don't know what sentence I'm going to give you," McKinley said. "I don't know hardly anything about this case or you."

After the hearing, Courtney described the other nuns as "doing all right," but could always use more funds and help for the home, which has 50 residents and 11 nuns in the order.

"We feel content that justice is being served," Courtney said. "We're able to go on better with our mission."

"We live day by day," Londono said.

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