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Ex-church secretary to serve 6 months She pleaded guilty to stealing $488,000

Maureen Durrell, former secretary and office manager of St. Christopher Catholic Church in the Town of Tonawanda, was sentenced Monday to six months in jail and ordered to repay $135,000 in partial restitution for the $488,000 she stole from the church and then spent on lavish vacations, home improvements and family expenses between September 1998 and February 2005.

State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang also sentenced Durrell to five years' parole.

Durrell pleaded guilty May 7 to second-degree grand larceny against the church at 2660 Niagara Falls Blvd. She had faced up to 15 years in prison for the embezzlement.

District Attorney Frank J. Clark blasted the six-month sentence Durrell got for stealing nearly half a million dollars from church coffers.

"She's lucky I wasn't sentencing her," Clark said. "If we're going to deter conduct like this, and we're talking about this much money being taken from a church, it seems we should be sending a stronger kind of message.

"If she took $488,000 and had to go to jail for six months, that ain't bad pay for six months away."

The theft was disclosed during an audit of parish books, where it was revealed that Durrell had systematically deleted financial data from the church computer. The matter was then turned over to the district attorney's office.

The church maintains Durrell stole $488,000, but Clark said his office was only able to prove $230,000 had been illegally siphoned away because of the altered records.

Clark also criticized St. Christopher's, which he said knew Durrell had been stealing the money nine months before forcing her to resign.

"She was taking $80,000 a year, and they don't miss it? At some point the church has some fiduciary responsibility to the people [whose money was misused]," he said.

Durrell, of Paramount Parkway, Town of Tonawanda, was arrested and briefly jailed in December after failing to appear in court for a scheduled arraignment following her indictment.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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