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Church: Parishioner took $200,000

Feb. 4, 2013

Town of Ashipppun - Even as they reel from the shock of discovering a parishioner has admitted to taking about $200,000 from the church, some members of Zion Lutheran Church are asking that the church extend clemency if the money is repaid.

In a letter to the congregation, Jim Schlieve acknowledged taking the money and said he took it to pay personal bills.

The Rev. Bob Thays said the church is saddened by the incident, and some parishioners have suggested clemency if Schlieve pays back the money, as he has promised to do. The congregation is expected to discuss that at the church's Feb. 10 annual meeting.

Thays said he is unable to disclose how the church discovered Schlieve had taken the money, or how long he had been doing so, because the matter is under investigation by the Dodge County Sheriff's Department. No charges have been filed against Schlieve.

Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls said he anticipates the investigation will be complete within two weeks. Nehls said the department has gone through the account history and gathered evidence on endowment checks that have been written and cashed. "The next step is to sit down with the suspect and go over them," Nehls said.

He said that everyone involved has been cooperative, which will make the investigation move quickly. After all the evidence is gathered, Nehls said the involved parties will sit down with the district attorney and, "see what they want to do."

When Nehls was told Thays said that many parishioners have asked about Schlieve gaining clemency, his response was, "wow."

He added that in his experience with cases like these, the organization that has been a victim of theft is so embarrassed it doesn't want any more notoriety. "They just want it to go away," he said. Nehls said if there were charges sought, it could mean that every victim would have to testify in court, which could essentially mean every church member. Thays said his congregation averages around 200 members, with between 90 and 130 regularly attending worship services.

On Jan. 20, the church held an informational meeting to inform the congregation that Schlieve had acknowledged to taking the money. "He said he acted alone without the knowledge of even his wife. He apologized to the congregation and said he was working to repay the money from his 401K," said a statement from the church.

Thays said handling the finances for the endowment fund is a volunteer job that Schlieve had taken on. Thays said the endowment fund was created with the profit from the sale of the church's parsonage. The interest from the fund helps offset the pastor's housing allowance, and the money is also used for scholarships and charitable needs, Thays explained.

News broke that Schlieve had admitted to taking the money after the Ashippun Town Board called a special meeting on Jan. 29 to discuss concerns there could be money missing from the town because Schlieve's wife, Vickie, is the town clerk. Officials said Vickie Schlieve would often bounce financial questions off her husband because he had experience with finances, and that he regularly attended Town Board meetings.

Town Chairman Steve Panozzo said after the audit, there is no reason to believe there is anything missing. The town will still consider spend the money for a more thorough audit at its February meeting. Vickie Schlieve voluntarily took a leave of absence while the town's audit firm, Johnson Block, did an audit. She returned to work on Tuesday, Jan. 30 after the Town Board voted unanimously at the special meeting to have her return.

Both Vickie and Jim Schlieve have declined to comment on the matter.

"The congregation's reaction was one of shock and sadness and deep concern for Jim and his family. Pastor Thays has reached out to the Schlieve family on behalf of the congregation," concluded the church statement.

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