A secretary in central Florida is accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from her church to help pay for, among other things, a new $50,000 swimming pool, credit cards, her match.com account, and trips with her children.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested 62-year-old Sharon McClelland Bradley, of Lakeland, on charges of grand theft over $100,000, fraud, criminal use of personal ID, fraudulent use of credit cards, forgery, money laundering and uttering a false instrument.
Investigators say she worked at the Calvary Baptist Church in Winter Haven for the last eleven years.
Over the past five years, detectives said she stole $768,000 from the church.
“She took advantage of the wonderful people at Calvary Baptist Church,” said Sheriff Grady Judd. “I didn’t make that up, $760,000 of what we can prove,.”
The investigation began last year when a retired major from the sheriff’s office, who now works as a deacon at the church, asked to see the financial records to help get records in order for the interim pastor.
One of the records showed an active $225,000 line of credit, tied to a bank account that didn’t belong to the church, the sheriff’s office said.
Bradley retired after catching wind of the audit, the sheriff’s office said. The church then asked the sheriff’s office to investigate a potential theft.
Investigators learned Bradley set up the line of credit to feed church bank accounts, and then stole money from those accounts.
The sheriff’s office said Bradley used more than a half-million dollars in church money to make credit card and car payments between 2015 and 2020. Investigators say she also used church money for clothing, beauty supplies, Netflix, purchases at SeaWorld, PayPal, and match.com, just to name a few.
“So when she would subscribe to match.com the parishioners at the church paid for her to look up boyfriends,” said Judd.
On several occasions, the sheriff said Bradley moved around $90,000 in cash from an account for the church’s pre-school tuition accounts to her personal accounts.
Bradley could face more charges as the investigation moves forward.
“I didn’t make that up, $760,000 is what we can prove,” said Judd. “We believe she probably stole for most of the 11 years.”
Church leaders told investigators that when they saw a mistake in the books, Bradley corrected it.
The church, according to the sheriff’s office is now on the hook for a balance of $190,000 on the line of credit.
“Well, isn’t that special? She has ripped off all of the people at church,” Judd said. “While she’s in jail…she can count the beans on her plate if she wants to at mealtime.”