Monday, June 17, 2024

Chickahominy Baptist Church Treasurer Sentenced to Five Years for Embezzlement

The Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse. (Staff Photo)
The Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse

A James City County woman was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling money from Chickahominy Baptist Church.

Alice Rebecca Wilson, 57, was arrested in June 2014 after investigators determined she had embezzled more than $4,800 from the church, of which she was the treasurer at the time.

Wilson used part of the church to run her daycare business, Alice’s Wonderland. Investigators with the James City County Police Department said she had an agreement with the church to pay utility bills from her personal funds in exchange for using the church’s space, but in fact she was using the church’s checking account to pay the bills.

The church’s pastor was contacted by the Internal Revenue Service in January 2014 regarding back taxes, at which point he began to investigate the church’s finances. He discovered the utility bill payments during that investigation, prompting him to approach Wilson, investigators said.

Though charges against Wilson were dropped in September 2014 due to lack of evidence, they were brought back two months later and she went to trial last September.

Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court Judge Michael McGinty found there was sufficient evidence Wilson had committed felony embezzlement but decided to withhold officially making a finding of guilt until after a pre-sentence report could be prepared.

Wilson reappeared before the court Wednesday. Defense Attorney Ivan Fehrenbach called her son to testify as a character witness on her behalf in the hopes the judge would be persuaded to reduce her felony charge to a misdemeanor.

“I developed my work ethic from her,” Ryland Wilson said of his mother. “She’s the backbone of our family.”

Fehrenbach argued that in addition to being a good mother, Wilson is also a notably civic-minded individual.

“She’s the only client I’ve ever had that has asked me about her voting rights if she is convicted of a felony,” Fehrenbach said. “She takes her role in the community very seriously.”

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Joshua DeFord focused on the fact the embezzlement charge stems from a series of decisions rather than a single lapse in judgment in his argument for the prosecution.

“This was not a situation where you have one bad choice. You had several bad choices,” DeFord said.

Despite noting that Wilson’s record was “glowing” outside of this one criminal incident, McGinty ultimately sided with the prosecution and found Wilson guilty of the felony charge.

“The court views embezzlement as a serious crime because it is committed from a position of trust. It’s not like walking in and robbing a store,” McGinty said. “There is no question that [her crime] has had a devastating impact on [the Chickahominy Baptist Church] community.”

McGinty sentenced Wilson to five years in prison with all time suspended and ordered her to pay back $4,959.50 in restitution to the victims, that she had come to court prepared to pay back almost that entire amount on the spot.

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