National

Police accuse church secretary of stealing $500K, helping pay for her wedding

(CNN) — A church secretary has been charged with embezzling $561,777 from the New Jersey church she volunteered at, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.

Taisha D. Smith-DeJoseph, 43, was responsible for overseeing the church’s finances and opened electronic bank accounts for St. Paul Baptist Church and used the money for personal expenses, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.

CNN reached out to Smith-DeJoseph but has not heard back. It was not immediately clear whether she has an attorney.

Over the course of five years, ending in March 2019, Smith-DeJoseph allegedly used the stolen money to pay her car loans, rent, credit card expenses, cable bill, cell phone bills, and to make hundreds of online purchases and pay for her wedding venue, a police investigation determined.

CNN reached out to St. Paul Baptist Church, in Florence Township, about 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia, but has not heard back.

The church’s board of trustees suspected a theft around June 2019 and approached authorities with their suspicions, which prompted an investigation, Joel Bewley, a spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, told CNN.

Smith-DeJoseph allegedly made purchases totaling $266,595.65 through PayPal, according to Bewley, and purchases of $22,812.69 on Amazon.

“People put their hard-earned money in the church and really expected for it to be taken care of,” the Rev. Fred Jackson told CNN affiliate KYW. “It’s very hurtful for the entire congregation and we’ve been going through it for several months now, and what else can I say? It was devastating.”

Smith-DeJoseph also allegedly issued payroll and supply reimbursement checks to herself from the church’s bank accounts and fabricated monthly statements to hide the church’s true financial state, according to a probable cause statement from the Burlington County Prosecutor’s office.

The woman was charged with multiple crimes including theft by deception, computer criminal activity and failure to pay income tax.

A man who said he is Smith-DeJoseph’s brother told CNN affiliate KYW that he wasn’t aware of the allegations.

“I know my sister and she would never do no (expletive) like that,” he said. The man was not named.

The Burlington County Prosecutor’s office said in an attempt to hide the scheme, Smith-DeJoseph didn’t file income tax returns for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. In 2017, she allegedly filed a fraudulent tax return.

The investigation concluded that Smith-DeJoseph “left the congregation with a negative balance of their accounts approximately 510 times over a seven-year period,” the probable cause statement said.

Smith-DeJoseph was taken into custody Tuesday morning following a search warrant at her home, according to Bewley.

The case will now go to a Burlington County grand jury for possible indictment, the prosecutor’s office told CNN.

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Comforting Soups to help you get through winter

Feeling the winter blues? Need some warmth to help get you through?

In our kitchen today, Michelle Dudash, RDN, Registered Dietitian, Chef and Author of Clean Eating for Busy Families, shares TWO soup recipes: A Hearty Broccoli Cheddar and Yukon Gold Potato Soup and a Chicken Tortilla Soup!

Registered dietitian and chef Michelle Dudash is here with her comforting soup recipes to help you get through winter. Here’s more:

Both recipes today are from Michelle’s book, “Clean Eating for Busy Families.”

Enjoy Hearty Broccoli Cheddar Soup without all of the saturated fat. Michelle lightens up what is typically a heavy soup by pureeing creamy gold potatoes and just a touch of butter, in place of heavy cream and lots of butter. The result is a silky, creamy soup.

  1. Yukon Gold Potatoes or Gold Potatoes are a good substitution for butter and heavy cream in recipes, since they have a buttery color and taste. They are great in mashed potatoes, too.

Puree the soup, while leaving half of the broccoli in whole florets, to keep the soup chunky and satisfying.

  1. Make Michelle’s Chicken Tortilla Soup in just 30 Minutes!
    With the help of Michelle Dash Dinners Taco Spice Kits.

Brown boneless chicken thighs or breasts on one side. Add 1 Dash Dinners Taco Spice Kit, 1 (15-oz) can crushed or diced tomatoes, 1 can rinsed and drained pinto beans, and 3 cups chicken broth. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Ladle over broken tortilla chips, if you wish, and sprinkle with your favorite toppings, like avocado, lime juice, and cilantro.

Hearty Broccoli Cheddar & Yukon Gold Potato Soup

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil or butter, or half of each
1 small onion, thinly sliced (about a cup)
1 small leak, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise, using white and light green parts only (about 1 cup)
1 stalk celery, sliced (about 2/3 cup)
1 teaspoon garlic, sliced
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (about 2 cups)
4 cups organic or reduced sodium vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups bite-size broccoli florets, divided
1 cup low-fat milk
2 cups reduced fat shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
2 cups whole-grain croutons, for topping

Heat a large pot over medium heat and add oil and butter. After butter melts and begins to bubble, add onion, leek, celery, and garlic. Sauté until translucent, reducing heat as needed to prevent browning, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes, broth, bay leaf, salt, and pepper, and simmer for 7 minutes. Add 3 cups of broccoli and simmer until potatoes and broccoli are fork-tender. Discard bay leaf, add milk, and remove from heat.

Ladle soup into a blender and puree for 1 minute until smooth. Add soup back to the pot and add remaining 3 cups of broccoli. Simmer for 5 minutes over medium-low until broccoli is tender. Sprinkle in 1 1/2 cups of cheese and stir until melted.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and croutons. Chill leftover for up to 3 days.

Total Prep and Cook time: 45 minutes
Yield: 6 servings, 1 cup each (with 1/4 cup croutons and 1 rounded tablespoon cheese)

Per Serving: 374 calories; 15 g total fat; 20 g protein; 42 g carbohydrate; 7 g dietary fiber; 32 mg cholesterol

To learn more, visit www.dashdinners.com.

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