Authorities: 2 suspects charged in separate thefts of thousands from Denver, Castle Rock churches

DA: Denver volunteer stole from stained glass fund

DENVER - Authorities have obtained arrest warrants for suspects in two separate large thefts of money from Denver and Castle Rock churches.

A volunteer at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Denver is accused of stealing $12,500 from a fund to replace stain glass windows, according to court records obtained by 7NEWS.

Denver District Attorney's Office investigators have obtained an arrest warrant for the volunteer, Michael Underwood, 34, who is charged with a felony theft. Underwood had not been arrested as of Wednesday afternoon, said district attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough.

Underwood was serving as the volunteer finance committee chairman at St. Paul's when the money disappeared from a church bank account, according to a search warrant affidavit filed by a district attorney investigator. He was in charge of all church finances, the affidavit said.

The first sign of a problem surfaced in August or September 2011 when the church's paid bookkeeper, Cyndeth Allison, discovered that checks were missing from the church's Special Funds Usage Account and hadn't been entered in the church's computerized accounting system.

Allison asked Underwood what the checks were for and he said the money was spent on a "legal issue" the church was involved, but he didn't elaborate or provide the amount of the checks, the affidavit said.

The bookkeeper didn't press the volunteer for details, saying such expenditures were common. But on Nov. 17, 2011, she received a call from the church's bank, saying the special funds account was overdrawn, the affidavit said.

Allison told the DA's investigator this seemed odd, because the church doesn't frequently use the account and it currently contained money set aside for repairing or replacing stained glass windows at the church. 

Allison said when she met with Underwood about the missing checks, he admitted taking the money, the affidavit said.

Underwood explained he and his partner were having relationship issues and there was a problem with a house they purchased, the affidavit said. Underwood told Allison the money was going to pay any attorney.

On Nov. 22, 2011, Underwood told St. Paul's Pastor Jessie Nelson that he took the money so he and his partner could get a one-time tax credit on the house they'd bought, the affidavit said.

"Underwood mentioned to Nelson that his physician had over-prescribed him medication. He meant to pay the money back and did not realize it was that much," the affidavit said.

From Aug. 3, 2011 to Nov. 14, 2011, eight checks were written from the church account and were deposited in Underwood's First Bank account, the affidavit said. The checks ranged in amount from $3,000 to $500.

The DA investigator said the authorizing signature on the front of the checks and the endorsement signature on the back of the checks appeared similar to Underwood's signature.

Underwood wrote a "letter of confession" and read it aloud at a meeting of church trustees on Jan. 12, 2012, the affidavit said.

 "In his confession, Underwood expressed remorse and shame for his actions, for abusing his position as the financial chairman," the affidavit said. "Underwood indicated he was in a desperate place in his life and he needed the money to pay legal fees, repairs to his house and to recover from lost time at work."

He agreed to repay the church $725 a month for 18 months, plus interest, the affidavit said. Yet, he soon bounced a repayment check.

The trustees agreed to lower the monthly payment amounts after Underwood said financial problems made him unable to repay the church.

But Underwood eventually refused to make further payments and to date has only repaid $1,521 of the thousands taken, the affidavit said.

Castle Rock Church Theft Case

In the Castle Rock theft case, police said they have obtained an arrest warrant for Melissa Miles, 39, a former employee of Faith Lutheran Church.

 She is accused of a stealing an estimated $27,000 from the church and faces a felony theft charge, police said.

Miles worked for the church between November 2011 and July 2012, when she was fired because of the suspected theft, police said.

In September, church officials filed a theft report with Castle Rock police, who conducted the investigation and filed a case with the Douglas County District Attorney's Office.

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