Not guilty plea in church theft

Published 11:18 am Friday, April 29, 2016

Court documents allege Austin woman took $200,000

An Austin woman pleaded not guilty Thursday in Freeborn County District Court to swindling almost $200,000 from St.Theodore Catholic school and church.

Ryan Mae McFarland, 37, faces nine felony counts of theft by swindle. The alleged theft reportedly took place from August 2013 through Feb. 5, 2014.

Ryan Mae McFarland

Ryan Mae McFarland

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According to court documents, the stolen money had been given to the church and school from the Diocese of Winona, parish members of the church and families with children attending the school through offerings, donations and fees.

Court records allege the misappropriation took place from Aug. 30, 2013, through Feb. 3, 2015, though there is some question that it could have started as early as 2012.

McFarland administered payroll and benefits for all of the church employees; oversaw the health insurance, flex and pension benefits for all parish and school personnel; and counted contributions for the church. In addition, she kept the books for the church and the school and sent financial reports to the Winona Diocese on a monthly basis.

Freeborn County District Court Judge Steven Schwab on Thursday said McFarland would be released on her promise to appear for her next hearing if she obeys the law and makes all of her court hearings.

He ordered her to have no contact with church personnel or staff and to stay away from the church.

She has to check in with court administration one time per week by phone.

McFarland is next slated to appear on Aug. 4 for a settlement conference. If a settlement is not reached, she will appear in a pre-trial on Sept. 9 and a jury trial Sept. 13.