July 22, 2008
Bail Set at $1 Million for Susan Barney in Church-Embezzlement Case
By Francine Sawyer, Sun Journal, New Bern, N.C.
Jul. 22--Susan Manning Barney made her first appearance in Craven County Superior Court on Tuesday after a grand jury indicted her on four counts of embezzling a total of $760,657 from a church.
District Attorney Scott Thomas said there could be another indictment involving additional stolen money, which would bring the total to $929,137. Barney has paid $45,000 in restitution to Garber United Methodist Church. That money came from equity in her house. In court Tuesday, Thomas said restitution payments stopped after the State Bureau of Investigation was asked to investigate.
If she is convicted, Barney could be sentenced to 97 months on each of the four counts, or a total of 32 years and four months in prison.
Superior Court Judge Ken Crow set the bail at $1 million. That includes $200,000 of secured and $800,000 of unsecured bail.
She made no comment during the proceedings except for telling the judge that she understood the charges.
By late Tuesday, bail had not been made and Barney was turned over to the Department of Correction.
The alleged embezzlement time line determined by the SBI was September 2001 to January 2008.
Barney is 51. She worked for the church for 13 years. The first five years she worked part time and the past eight years she worked full time in the finance department of the church.
She has hired lawyer Myron Hill of Greenville to represent her.
Barney's husband, Rick Barney is a seasoned law enforcement officer and an investigator with the Craven County Sheriff's Office.
He was at his wife's side with his hand on her shoulder as she sat and dabbed her eyes with tissue during the proceedings.
Craven County Sheriff Jerry Monette told the Sun Journal in May that Rick Barney was given three independent polygraph examinations and "he passed them all."
The sheriff said the examinations showed that Rick Barney did not know about his wife's embezzlement.
Thomas told Crow that no one else was implicated in the embezzlements.
On Tuesday, Monette said: "Our office along with Trent Woods Police Department asked for this investigation, to be sure to clear anyone who was innocent in this matter. Rick has done a great job for this office in the past and he will continue to be employed here."
Hill said that his client acknowledged her guilt. He said much of the money went to her son's drug addiction. Rick Barney said after the story broke in February that their son was hooked on heroin and had been in and out of rehab.
Her son is in a rehabilitation center in Greenville, S.C.
Crow set conditions Barney must meet if she is released on bail. The conditions include these:
--She must turn over her passport. (She did this earlier in the investigation).
--She may not leave the country. It was stated in court that she and her family has been to Costa Rica 25 times in the past 13 years, often on church ministries.
--She cannot sign financial or real estate documents.
--She cannot leave the state, except for visits to her son in South Carolina.
Barney has been out of the state only once since the investigation began. She flew to Chicago, Ill., for a job interview with United Airlines. She never pursued the job.
If Barney is confined, she will be put in "safe custody," and not in the Craven County jail.
Hill said that it would not be safe to house her in the same facility that her husband has placed suspects. Hill also said that she needs psychiatric treatment and evaluation and asked that she get that from personnel at the Correctional Center for Women in Raleigh.
In considering her bond, Crow noted that she has paid four percent of the amount she has stolen if the higher figure of $929,177 is calculated.
"I want to be sure that there is not a pile of money hidden somewhere. There is no secret pile of money outside the U.S., is there?" Crow asked.
Thomas said the SBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration has found no money. He said the investigation is continuing.
Crow wanted to know if there was any offshore account in the names of Barney. Thomas said none had been found.
"I am concerned that the Barneys have hired an attorney. Mr. Hill does not come cheaply," Crow said before setting the bond.
Several members of the administrative council of Garber United Methodist Church declined to comment and referred all call to New Bern lawyer Gary Clemmons. Clemmons was hired by the church to look out for Garber's interest. He is not a member of the church.
Reached at his office, Clemmons said he had no comment.
Church officials learned about the missing money in late January. They confronted Barney in February and placed her on leave of absence without pay. She then resigned.
Members were told in a letter that the money taken was hidden from the Finance Committee and Administrative Council.
The church officials at first said they were going to take the Christian approach to the matter. In March Thomas asked the SBI to investigate at the request of the sheriff and Trent Wood Police Chief Mike Register. The church is Trent Woods.
Francine Sawyer can be reached at 635-5671 or at [email protected]
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