Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, a 79-year-old nun, has been stealing money for gambling in Las Vegas and other extravagant personal purchases. Kreuper will plead guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges, in a scheme that saw over $800,000 stolen from St. James Catholic School over 10 years.
The Catholic elementary school accounts helped the nun fund her gambling addiction, among other things, such as credit card charges, and a brand new Volvo. Sister Kreuper stole a total of $835,339 over 10 years, from 2008 to 2018. She used her high position at the school “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,” according to the plea agreement.
The nun was charged Tuesday for one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering, and a plea agreement was filed along with the charging document. Mark Byrne, Kreuper’s attorney, claimed that the nun is “very remorseful for what happened,” explaining that for 60 years, Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper dedicated her life to serving others.
The lapse in judgment came “later in life” after she had “been suffering from a mental illness that clouded her judgment and caused her to do something she otherwise would not have done.” She began her life as a nun when she was only 18 years old.
The scheme, which saw over a quarter of a million dollars funneled into personal accounts, fueling a gambling problem, was finally noticed in 2018 by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who immediately contacted authorities. The Archdiocese had been reviewing financial records, and an issue popped up showing substantial funds from the Catholic school were misappropriated for personal use.
In their statement, the archdiocese said that “the community of faith at St. James was shocked and saddened by these actions and the parish, school and the archdiocese reported the matter and fully cooperated with authorities in the criminal investigation.”
Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper was the principal of St. James Catholic School for nearly three decades and was in charge of overseeing tuition money, school fees, and charitable donations. The nun also controlled the school’s credit union accounts.
During her decade-long scheme, the nun used the credit union accounts to divert other funds to what she then used for personal spending. She also falsified school financial records to hide the trail. She then used those funds to gamble in Las Vegas, purchase a luxury car, and pay off debts.
The nun wasn’t alone either. She and Sister Lana Chang, a former teacher, misappropriated the funds together. Chang retired in 2018, at the same time as Sister Kreuper, after teaching eighth grade for 20 years, and serving as vice principal for the past several years.
Parents and families whose children attended St. James Catholic School explained how they had seen both administrators driving to school in Volvos and had heard them speak about trips to Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. Both nuns took vows of poverty when they entered the Church, promising all monetary gains from working at the school to the order.
The nun confessed to embezzling money from the Catholic school, taking cash and checks that were offered to the school by parents. She then deposited the money into separate accounts without informing school officials.
She then falsified monthly and annual school financial records, lulling “St. James School and the administration into believing the school’s finances were being properly accounted for and its financial assets properly safeguarded,” according to the filing. Parents of the Catholic school are outraged, and insisted that the nun apologizes for the misuse of funds, which were supposed to be used to improve the Church and other amenities for their children.
Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper faces up to 40 years in federal prison and may be required to pay restitution totaling the $835,000 in misappropriated funds. The nun’s arraignment is on July 1.