Otsego County Pastor Admits To Embezzling Church Funds

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that a former pastor has pleaded guilty to stealing over $185,000 from St. James Episcopal Church in Oneonta.

Mark J. Cole, 49, now of Johnstown, pleaded guilty on June 9 to an indictment charging him with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class "C" felony. The plea was entered in Otsego County Court before the Honorable Brian D. Burns. Judge Burns sentenced Cole immediately afterward to serve five years probation and to pay restitution. Cole paid the full amount of $186,305 in court and admitted to taking funds that he was not authorized to in excess of $50,000. On April 20, 2004, he had pled guilty to the federal crime of Subscribing to a False Return, in violation of U.S.C. 7206(1), for failing to report as income the money he stole. Cole concluded a one-year federal prison term on that charge in December 2005.

Cole stole the money between January of 1997 and August of 2000, during which time he was serving as the church’s rector. His actions were discovered when a check from the St. James Mission Fund to another missionary society bounced in October of 2000. An audit of the church’s funds revealed Cole had moved money into his personal account. Cole had been at St. James since from the time of his ordination in 1989 until his resignation in August of 2000.

The case was referred to the Attorney General’s office by the Otsego County District Attorney.

This matter was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Carol Cocchiola of the Attorney General's Binghamton Regional Office. It was investigated by Investigator Lawrence R. Mavsili of the New York State Police Special Investigations Unit with the assistance of Investigator Thomas E. Rubel of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division.