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Suncoast Cathedral human resources director charged in theft of more than $100,000 from church

Dawn Myers Martin, 46, was human resources director at Suncoast Cathedral.
Dawn Myers Martin, 46, was human resources director at Suncoast Cathedral.
Published Sep. 1, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — As the human resources director at Suncoast Cathedral, Dawn Myers Martin ensured she was taking home a good chunk of change, according to an arrest report.

Martin, 46, inflated her biweekly salary and approved continued paychecks for her husband, even when he was on worker's compensation, the report states. It says she used department codes to disguise the anomalies.

Between January 2012 and August 2014, according to the report, she stole $115,143.44 from the church.

The theft was discovered in an audit, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office report says. Martin was arrested Aug. 25 and faces a charge of grand theft. Because an investigation into the case is ongoing, no further records were available.

She was booked into the Pinellas County Jail and released on $50,000 bail a few hours later.

A message left for Martin, who lives in St. Petersburg, was not returned. She does not appear on the evangelical church's website, which exhorts visitors to "come as you are."

Suncoast Cathedral, on 62nd Avenue N in St. Petersburg, is an Assemblies of God church. Messages left for the church were not returned.

The church's membership is diverse, "because we believe that God loves everyone," its website says.

"Some are wearing suits and ties, some are wearing jeans and a T-shirt," the website reads. "Some drive luxury cars and others are picked up on our shuttle bus. There's no requirement to be with us, just come as you are."

Another Tampa Bay-area church was the victim of embezzlement in recent years.

While working as business manager at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church in Tampa, Juliet Suzanne Ellis skimmed more than $82,000 from its coffers. Between 2008 and 2014, she overpaid herself and wrote herself unauthorized checks, among other financial misdeeds. The church discovered the anomalies when a roof repair check bounced.

Ellis admitted her scheme in court this spring, and she was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison. Sentencing guidelines called for an even stricter punishment: a prison term of 15 to 21 months.

"You literally stole from God," U.S. District Judge Richard Lazzara told Ellis. "And what really bothers me is you grew up in this church."

Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8321.