Thursday, April 25, 2024

Former Yuba City Church Administrator Arrested in Oklahoma, Charged with Fraud and Identity Theft

SACRAMENTO, Calif. May 26 (Ajit USA) – An indictment was unsealed today following the arrest of Chanell Easton, 36, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. On May 19, 2022, a federal grand jury in Sacramento returned an indictment, charging Easton with 22 counts of wire fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft for a scheme to embezzle church funds, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, from June 2013 to February 2018, Easton worked as an administrator at a church in Yuba City. During her employment, Easton stole over $360,000 from the church, including from its food pantry and youth ministry, during a years-long embezzlement scheme. Without the church’s knowledge or authorization, Easton opened five business credit card accounts in the church’s name. Easton used these five credit cards, as well as a credit card used by the church’s youth pastor, to make personal purchases—including at a hair salon, retail stores, online retailers, a vacation rental service, and to buy concert tickets—and then paid off the resulting balance with the church’s money. Easton also transferred money directly from the church’s bank accounts to her own personal account, paid down the balance of her own personal credit card, and paid her cellphone provider for her personal bills and for new phones.

According to the indictment, Easton also stole money from the church by writing checks to others for personal expenses and by writing checks to herself, on which she forged the signatures of the church’s treasurer or the head volunteer of the church’s food pantry.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elliot C. Wong and Christopher S. Hales are prosecuting the case.

If convicted, Easton faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count of wire fraud, and a mandatory two-year sentence on each count of aggravated identity theft. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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