Anita Collins was wearing a crucifix and handcuffs at her arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court for grand larceny and falsifying business records — charges that could send her to jail for up to 25 years if she is convicted.
Ms Collins is accused of stealing over $1m in money meant to oversee schools and using it to purchase a doll collection and clothing, among other things, prosecutors and the archdiocese said last night.
Prosecutors say she spent over seven years covertly writing hundreds of cheques, each for less than $2,500 (€1,900), to her son and logging them as payments for legitimate Church expenses.
In that time, prosecutors say Ms Collins acquired a doll collection, $23,000 worth of clothes, $19,000 worth of items from an Irish gift shop and other luxuries while working a job paying between $35,000 and $50,000 at the Catholic archdiocese.
Ms Collins was arraigned on grand larceny and other charges. She is being held on $750,000 bond.
After the investigation, the archdiocese discovered that she was convicted in 1999 of stealing over $50,000 from a temporary staffing agency where she worked, and in 1986 of stealing from another employer, Manhattan assistant district attorney Amy Justiniano told a judge.
Ms Collins did not disclose her criminal history when hired, archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said.
Ms Justiniano says Ms Collins, who was fired 24 hours after the fraud came to light in December, made a full confession after Monday’s arrest.
The money was stolen from accounts used to run a central office for some of the area’s Catholic schools, Ms Zwilling said.
Between insurance and potential restitution, the archdiocese expects to recover the funds, he said.
In a 2010 article in the archdiocese newspaper Catholic New York, Ms Collins was lauded for volunteering at St Patrick’s Cathedral when Archbishop Timothy Dolan welcomed 600 people to Catholicism.
Ms Collins was described as an “unassuming” person. In the article she said: “My faith has always been a steadfast part of my life.”