Despite taking a vow of poverty, a now-retired nun will plead guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Catholic elementary school in California for her personal expenses, including gambling, federal officials said.
Mary Margaret Kreuper, 79, of Los Angeles, was charged Tuesday with wire fraud and money laundering, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California officials said in a news release. Kreuper has agreed to plead guilty to two charges as part of a plea agreement and could face up to 40 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Kreuper embezzled more than $835,000 from St. James Catholic School in Torrance over 10 years ending in September 2018. Kreuper was principal of the school for 28 years and was responsible for handling the money the school got for tuition, fees and charity.
Kreuper diverted funds from a school savings account and another account designated to pay the expenses of the nuns at the school, according to officials. Kreuper said in the plea agreement that she used the money “to pay for expenses that the order would not have approved, much less paid for, including large gambling expenses incurred at casinos and certain credit card charges.”
Kreuper also said in the plea agreement that she falsified annual and monthly reports to the school and “lulled St. James School and the Administration into believing that the school’s finances were being properly accounted for and its financial assets properly safeguarded, which, in turn, allowed defendant Kreuper to maintain her access and control of the school’s finances and accounts and, thus, continue operating the fraudulent scheme.”
The pastor of St. James Catholic Church in Redondo Beach alerted parents in November 2018 that Kreuper and another nun Lana Chang, who was an eighth grade teacher and vice principal for the school, allegedly took trips to Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas using school funds, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Both Chang and Kreuper retired in 2018, according to the publication.
“It is unclear if Chang was charged” in the investigation, KTLA reported.
Parents expressed outrage that school funds were being misappropriated, McClatchy News previously reported.
“We were an ATM, and people know it and they won’t ask for justice,” parent Jack Alexander told the Long Beach Press-Telegram inn 2018. “They are trying to recapture money, not get justice.”
Kreuper is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court on July 1 for arraignment, officials said.