Police: Church lady confesses to expansive theft

In New York, a woman who worked for the Roman Catholic Church is accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in church funds.

Police say Anita Collins has now confessed.

The charges were apparently a big surprise to those who know her.

Cookie LaTerra, one of Collins' neighbor, told CBS News, "She seems nice, seems like a hard-working woman, believe me."

But Manhattan's District Attorney says the 67-year-old Collins was a thief who stole nearly a $1 million from the Archdiocese of NY. Her attorney, Howard Simmons, says his client is sorry.

"She is incredibly remorseful and ashamed," Simmons said. "I am told at the arraignment that she has made a full confession."

Clerk charged with stealing $1 million from New York Archdiocese

Collins worked as a clerk for the archdiocese for nearly eight years.

She allegedly wrote over 450 checks and placed them in her son's account. Each check was under $2,500, which meant she didn't have to get approval from church officials.

Joe Swilling, director of communications of the Archdiocese of New York said, "She was very careful in how she did this. ... This was a sophisticated fraud."

For an analysis of this case with faith and religion contributor the Rev. Edward Beck on "CBS This Morning," click on the video in the player below.

Collins lived in a modest apartment in the Bronx with her daughter. But earlier this week, police removed paintings and boxes of collectible dolls allegedly bought with the money.

Prosecutors say she spent $37,000 on clothing from Barney's and Brooks Brothers, $18,000 at Bloomingdales on furniture and $19,000 at an Irish gift shop -- all while earning less than $50,000 a year.

Collins had been convicted of theft twice before, in 1986, and again in 1999 for stealing at least $46,000 from a temporary employment agency. She was hired by the Archdiocese of New York in 2003.

"She applied and was hired before we instituted our criminal background check policy," Swilling said.

Collins, who remains behind bars, has been charged with grand larceny and falsifying business records. If convicted, the former church clerk could go to prison for at least 25 years.

Click on the video above for Miller's full report.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.

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