A disgraced nun who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Los Angeles Catholic elementary school and went on Vegas gambling sprees will be reciting her penance from inside a federal prison cell.
Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, of Los Angeles, was sentenced Monday to one year and one day for fraud and money laundering charges. The 80-year old nun also was ordered to pay a total of $825,338.57 in restitution for the money she embezzled while she was a principal at St. James Catholic School in Torrance, Calif.
Prosecutors said Kreuper, who was the school’s principal for 28 years, diverted funds to pay for expenses that her order — the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet — would never have approved, including large gambling expenses from casino trips and credit card charges she made from 2008 to September 2018.
Kreuper, who apologized to the community during Monday’s sentencing, also made a Hail Mary plea to the judge for leniency.
Asst. US Atty. Poonam Kumar told the Post that the wayward nun took frequent gambling trips to Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Temecula and other locations throughout Southern California. Kreuper even took fellow nuns on some of those excursions and spent thousands of the elementary school’s money, Kumar said.
“One of the things she said when she was first confronted by the L.A. Archdiocese and even before law enforcement got involved, was she did it in part because she believes priests get paid better than nuns,” Kumar told The Post.
While Kreuper spent the school’s funds on gambling trips, the former principal continued to ask parents to donate more money to the school on top of their $6,000 annual tuition.
“This was really an abuse of position of trust, right,” Kumar said. “She was the principal. She was running the school that these parents had chosen to send their children, and not just for the academics. Many of the letters I cited … and many of the people who spoke, talked about wanting something more from their children’s education.
“They wanted to get a Catholic education with the morals and values that they believed in and that they lead their lives in, and that’s what they were looking for in the school. So there were a considerable number of parents who were very upset and obviously feeling quite betrayed. There were parents who spoke today about how their kids are no longer affiliated with the church.”
Kreuper plead guilty to the charges in July and also admitted she falsified monthly and annual reports to the school administration, and told employees to cover up her fraudulent conduct.
Kumar said Kreuper was able to dodge detection for so many years because she would divert tuition checks and other funds to two old bank accounts that other school administrators were not aware were still being used. While other checks were being cashed properly and accounted for, the crooked nun deposited other checks in the secret bank accounts before they were even accounted for by staff.
“She basically was able to keep them secret and the school administration was never the wiser that there were these extra funds that she was taking,” Kumar told the Post.
Kumar added Kreuper’s scheme was revealed after the school performed an informal audit shortly after the nun announced she would be retiring as principal in 2018. It was then that Kreuper started to get nervous and told two employees to destroy documents and directed them to not mention to the auditors that certain documents were missing.
The employees then reported Kreuper to the monsignor of the parish, Kumar said.
Prosecutors asked for a sentence of two years, but U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II said during Monday’s sentencing that he also struggled to find the proper sentence for the nun, and even said she was “one heck of a teacher.”
“You can be proud of that,” Wright said, according to the LA Times. “But somewhere along the line, you just ran completely off the road, and I think you understand that. At least I hope you do.”
Defense attorney Mark Byrne told the Post that Kreuper joined her order when she was 18 years old and has been an educator for 54 years. He said some former St. James Catholic School students even wrote letters to the judge in support of their former teacher and principal.
“We had a lot of letters from parents and students who knew about the fact that she had taken the money, and presumably the money was taken from them, and yet they found it in their hearts to forgive her,” Byrne said. “They did not necessarily overlook, but asked to judge her more by her entire life rather than the theft from by St. James (Catholic School). But Sister Mary said that she was extremely remorseful and humbled. She broke the law, she has no excuses for it and she took full responsibility.”
Byrne said the order of the Sisters of St.Joseph of Carondelet already imposed “some severe and onerous” restrictions over Kreuper.
“She can’t leave the premises unless she’s given permission and she has to tell them where she’s going and she has to be accompanied by somebody,” the defense attorney told the Post. “Basically, for the last three and a half years, she’s been driving her fellow sisters to doctor’s appointments and things like that. So she’s basically under house arrest, which she accepts.”
Archdiocese of Los Angeles officials said in a statement that school officials and others cooperated with the investigation.
“The Archdiocese informed authorities of the matter in 2018 when financial reviews during a change in leadership showed a substantial amount of school funds had been misappropriated for personal use by Sister Mary Margaret during her tenure as school principal,” church officials said. “The Archdiocese and St. James Parish and School are grateful to local and federal law enforcement agencies for their work in the investigation of this matter. We continue to offer our prayers for all impacted by this matter.”
Kreuper was released under her own recognizance but will have to turn herself in to the Federal Bureau of Prisons by June 7 to begin her one-year and one-day sentence. She will be under two years’ supervision when she is released, Kumar said.