A former board member at a church in Los Angeles church has been jailed for twelve years after stealing $11.4 million from his own congregation.
Charles T. Sebesta, 56, of Huntington Beach, stole the money over a period of ten years through an elaborate embezzlement scheme.
According to prosecutors, Sebasta stripped Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist of its wealth by stealing equity from its assets. Sebasta pled guilty last year to bank and wire fraud. He has now admitted to forging signatures on checks, creating bogus companies to submit fake invoices to the church, and even intercepting bequests to the church from congregants who died.
Sebesta also reportedly orchestrated the firing of anyone who became suspicious of his conduct.
Prosecutors say Sebesta “destroyed a venerable church, its congregation, and the faith its congregants had in one another by employing sophisticated means to abuse his position of trust and cause the church not only substantial but ruinous financial hardship". They added that he treated the church “as his own personal piggy bank".
Sebesta's own lawyer accepted that his client had engaged in "serious unlawful conduct", but cited his history of heavy drinking and his bipolar disorder as mitigating circumstances. He added the convicted felon "sincerely regrets his actions".
Sebesta has been ordered to pay the money back to the church as restitution.