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Elderly Nun Gets A Year In Prison For Embezzling $835K From School To Fund Vegas Jaunts

A federal judge sentenced Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, a nun and former Catholic school principal, to a year in prison for embezzling more than $835,000 from the school she ran to fund a more secular lifestyle — including gambling trips.

By Megan Carpentier
The St James Catholic Church School G

An elderly nun who pleaded guilty to embezzling from a Catholic school to fund her own gambling trips has been sentenced to a year in federal prison. 

Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, 80, was sentenced on Monday to 12 months and one day in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II and ordered to pay $825,338 in restitution to the St. James Catholic School in Torrance, California, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California.

She pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering in July 2021, according to prosecutors, as part of a plea deal. Though the statutory maximum on those two charges was 40 years, prosecutors asked that she serve two, according to Courthouse News, and the judge in the case sentenced the senior citizen to just 12 months.

Prosecutors say that Kreuper — who served as the principal of St. James' school for 28 years prior to her 2018 arrest — began embezzling money from the school in 2008 when she was around 66 years old.

According to her plea agreement reviewed by Courthouse News, Kreuper began diverting both cash and checks the school received from payment for children's tuition and as donations into a St. James Convent bank account (established to pay for the living expenses of the nuns who worked at the school) as well as a the St. James savings account established for the school itself. 

In March 2017, for instance, Kreuper deposited $5,700 in checks made out to the school into the convent account and then, in April 2017, wrote a check against the convent account for $6,000, made out to person who deposited the check and gave her the cash, the site reported.

Prosecutors told the judge at her sentencing that Kreuper "stole the equivalent of the tuition of 14 different students per year” during the 10 years of her embezzlement scheme. In her plea agreement, they noted 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, they noted in their press releases, "as a nun had taken a vow of poverty." 

Kreuper also falsified the school's monthly and yearly financial reports to hide her embezzlement and, when questioned by parents about the school's resources, told them "there was no money for an awning at school and no money for field trips," prosecutors said.

Her crime came to light after her retirement was announced in 2018 and the archdiocese began an audit of the school's finances to prepare for its change in leadership. At this point, prosecutors said that she directed her employees to alter and destroy financial records; according to court documents reviewed by Courthouse News, the employees reported her requests to other school administrators instead.

She reportedly claimed, after she was caught by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, that she "used the money to travel, eat out with friends and gamble in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and Temecula," the site reported. 

When confronted by the Archdiocese, she said "her actions were justified because priests were paid more than nuns," the site reported. 

At the time of her plea agreement, her attorney, Mark Byrne, suggested another reason in a statement to Courthouse News.

"She became a nun when she was 18 years old, and for the next 59 years she dedicated her life to helping others and educating children in Archdiocesan schools," he stated. "Unfortunately, later in her life she has been suffering from a mental illness that clouded her judgment and caused her to do something that she otherwise would not have done. She is very sorry for any harm she has caused."

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