ST. PETERSBURG — The former assistant to the pastor of one of the city's most prestigious churches has been arrested and charged with grand theft.
Patricia Lynn Adams, 61, is accused of stealing $37,265.74 from First United Methodist Church, 212 Third St. N. According to the arrest affidavit, the theft occurred between 2008 and 2011.
Church leaders broke the news to the congregation early last year in a statement read by the head of the church council.
"He informed them of some sad news, that our pastor's secretary resigned and there were some improprieties and we were unable to account for some of the money that has gone through her hands," said Mark Williams, head of the staff parish relations committee.
According to the arrest affidavit, Adams used the church's credit card to make online and in-store purchases. She also used First United Methodist's Publix account for personal items.
The church hired a forensic accountant after the initial discrepancies were discovered.
"As we dug deeper and deeper, it added up and she was upfront about it and admitted that she had made a mistake," Williams said.
Adams, who had worked for the Rev. David Miller, was "a wonderful person, very loved" by the congregation.
The pastor "was probably more disappointed than anybody. At first, among all of us, there was a level of disbelief," Williams said.
According to Florida Department of Corrections records, Adams, whose address is 5090 Bay St. NE, has had a previous encounter with the law. In 2007, she was ordered to serve 11 years of probation on a grand theft conviction. She now faces two charges, grand theft and violation of probation.
First United Methodist, which has more than 40 employees, conducts background checks for prospective staff, Williams said.
"We did on her and we knew exactly who we were getting," he said. "Sometimes people make mistakes in life and you take a chance."
Williams said the church has since implemented a more stringent audit program and increased financial controls.
First United Methodist is where former Gov. Charles Crist was married. Through the years, the growing congregation of about 1,700 members has solidified its presence downtown, acquiring almost the entire city block on which its sanctuary stands.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.