A retired nun with a gambling habit will plead guilty to embezzling more than $835,000 from the Catholic school where she worked as a principal in California after she was caught using that money to pay off her debts.
Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, 79, faces up to 40 years in federal prison for the scheme, which played out over the final 10 years of her tenure as principal of St. James Catholic School in Torrance, Calif.
She was charged on Tuesday with one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Kreuper admitted in a plea agreement to diverting donation and tuition money into a savings account that she initially used to cover living expenses for the nuns who worked at the school. She also admitted to eventually taking that money for herself in order to pay for “expenses that the order would not have approved of, much less paid for, including large gambling expenses incurred at casinos and certain credit card charges.”
Kreuper took a vow of poverty at age 18 and spent 59 years of her life as a nun, prosecutors said. She served as principal at the school for 28 years and retired from her post in 2018.
Prosecutors say Kreuper “lulled” school officials into believing that she was taking good care of the school’s finances. They also say that Kreuper ordered school employees to alter or destroy financial records to cover her tracks.
An audit ultimately uncovered her sins after she retired.
Kreuper’s lawyer told the Washington Post that the former nun is “very remorseful” for her actions and is “sorry for any harm she caused.”
“As soon as she was confronted, she accepted full responsibility for what she had done and she has cooperated completely with law enforcement and the archdiocese,” her lawyer said in a statement. The lawyer added that Kreuper “has been suffering from a mental illness that clouded her judgment.”
The statement did not explain the nature of the alleged mental illness.
“The community of faith at St. James was shocked and saddened by these actions,” the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said in a statement. It also thanked investigators for their efforts in the case.
Kreuper is due to appear in court for her arraignment on July 1.
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