LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A former bookkeeper for the Little Sisters of the Poor was sentenced Tuesday to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay $364,000 in restitution for embezzling money from the charity and using it to buy herself a new car, among other items.
U.S. District Judge Joseph H. McKinley told 54-year-old Mary "Kathy" Montfort that she was getting one of the lesser sentences available, in part because the judge wanted to make sure as much money as possible is repaid to the religious order.
"Stealing from Little Sisters of the Poor, it would have been better if you stole from General Motors, from a public relations standpoint," McKinley said. "But, theft is theft."
Montfort pleaded guilty in April to pilfering the money by forging the names of nuns in writing 43 checks on the organization's account between April 2010 and November 2011. She had faced 16 charges, including forging checks and money laundering.
In federal court in Louisville, Montfort was apologetic to two nuns who sat silently in the courtroom bedecked in all-white habits.
"I know I hurt you deeply," Montfort said. "I know it's been a hardship."
Montfort also wrote a letter to the nuns, a copy of which was placed in her court file, expressing grief and distress at having taken from the order and violating their trust. Montfort wrote that she "truly loves" the nuns and apologized for taking the money.
"I know what I have done is terribly wrong and that I have hurt a lot of people in the process," Montfort wrote. "That was never my intention."
Montfort said she took the funds after running into financial difficulties and was unable to get a loan. Montfort said she planned to pay it back. "One situation led to another and I had no real idea that it had reached the level that it finally came to," Montfort wrote.
Montfort wrote that she did used the money for "personal needs," but most of it went to help people who "really needed help," including family friends who were unable to pay for a funeral and insurance costs.
"The majority of the money was used for necessities for my family and others," Montfort wrote. "I know that I have made a terrible mistake and want to do what is right to correct things."
McKinley took note of the letter and Montfort's explanation of what happened to some of it, particularly that it was given away to others.
"That wasn't your money to give away," McKinley said. "And, you certainly weren't stealing from the rich to give to the poor."
Mike O'Connell, the Jefferson County Attorney and board member of the St. Joseph's Home for the Aged, which the sisters run, told McKinley the nuns were glad the case was coming to an end.
"It's been quite an ordeal," O'Connell said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Calhoun recommended 27 to 33 months in prison for Montfort, noting that the sisters rely on donations and that they'll be without a significant amount of money unless and until restitution is paid.
"The lasting effect in this case is more significant than it would be on a corporation," Calhoun said.
The charges arose in November when a nun with Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate St. Joseph's Home for the Aged in Louisville, called police to report suspicions that Montfort was embezzling from the organization. The nun, identified only as "M.C." in a criminal complaint, told federal officers that Fifth Third Bank called to verify a $14,742 check deposited in an account belonging to one of Montfort's relatives while Montfort was on vacation.
Investigators determined the check was fraudulent and the bank conducted a review and found 43 checks totaling $200,294 paid to a relative of Montfort's from April 7, 2010 through Nov. 10, 2011. Prosecutors say Montfort, who worked for the order from 2007 until her arrest, bought a 2010 Ford Fusion and a 2008 Mercury Grand Marquis with the money. Calhoun said both vehicles will be forfeited as part of the agreement.
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