MADISON, WIS. – Scott C. Blader, United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Deborah Marcellus, 64, Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, was sentenced yesterday by U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson to 37 months in prison for engaging in a wire fraud scheme and filing a false income tax return. Marcellus pleaded guilty to these charges on July 2, 2018.
Marcellus served as the Director of Development for St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. In this role, she was responsible for paying church vendors with checks and maintaining a record of those checks in the accounting software known as QuickBooks. The law enforcement investigation revealed that between 2011 and April of 2017, Marcellus generated over 200 unauthorized church checks to herself for a total of $822,900. The audit trail from QuickBooks showed that while the unauthorized checks were originally written to Marcellus, she often quickly changed the payee name to a legitimate church vendor. Marcellus also forged the signature of multiple church leaders on the unauthorized checks.
During the same time-period, Marcellus filed a false Individual Income Tax Return for 2012, in which she underreported her gross income by failing to report the embezzled proceeds.
In imposing the 37-month prison sentence, Judge Peterson noted that Marcellus’s embezzlement scheme was sustained over a long period of time and involved a substantial amount of money. Judge Peterson also admonished Marcellus for “stealing from the people who trusted her the most.”
U.S. Attorney Blader said, “This office is committed to prosecuting financial and tax crimes, especially in cases such as this which involve a long-term scheme and significant financial loss by the victim. The crime here, involving the theft of a significant amount of money from a charitable institution, is particularly disturbing.”
The charges against Marcellus are the result of an investigation by IRS Criminal Investigation and the Rice Lake Police Department, with the cooperation of St. Joseph’s Church and the Diocese of Superior. The prosecution of this case has been handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron D. Wegner.