For more than five years, until 2018, Lisa Dawn Stabeno worked as an account manager for Church on the Rock in Texas as part of their “Dream Center.” Her job was to help “underserved individuals” in her city.
The indictment said she used church money, “to supplement her business income; pay for personal expenses, including restaurant meals and spa services; and pay for vacations to various destinations, including Disney Land, LegoLand, Six Flags over Texas, and Las Vegas.”
She also used church funds to cover personal medical costs, rent, a car loan, and her family’s credit card debt. She also used that money to pay employees who worked at her bakery.
All told, she took more than $450,000 of the church’s money, meant to help poor people, and used it as her personal slush fund. Now, after accepting a plea deal, she still faces up to 30 years in prison on top of a fine of up to $1 million.
“As a result of Stebeno’s embezzlement, the church experienced difficulty paying expenses and was forced to terminate employees, seek donations from its parishioners, and obtain a bank loan,” court records said.
It’s hard to make me feel sympathy for a megachurch, but this sort of thing will do it. Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is that it was an employee, and not the church’s leaders, stealing the cash. But the whole story also speaks to the lack of oversight at this place. Even if it’s a church, why weren’t more people watching the spending? How did no one notice this much money not flowing in the right direction? Did they trust her because of their faith (or hers)?
At least she now faces a secular punishment. Because when it comes to financial crimes, churches are more than happy to let the courts handle it.