Clover church bookkeeper gets 24 months prison for fraud

Sandra Stroupe stole more than $605,000 from the Clover Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church while working as a bookkeeper to supplement her family’s income, pay for living expenses, purchase “relatively modest gifts and luxuries,” and pay off credit card debt that spiraled out of control, according to court documents.

On Friday in federal court, Stroupe, 67, was sentenced to 24 months in prison followed by supervised release. She was also ordered to pay the church $610,000 restitution.

She pleaded guilty in March to mail fraud.

At the sentencing hearing, Jim Young, an elder for Clover ARP, said the church desired full restitution. Stroupe's lawyer, however, argued she shouldn't serve prison time because of her age and lack of a criminal background.

In a court document, her lawyer, John M. Barton of Columbia, says that five years of probation would be a more appropriate punishment.

“Stroupe has never and does not now offer any excuse or justification for her theft of money from her church,” Barton wrote in one document.

Stroupe, who was Clover ARP’s bookkeeper for 38 years, altered checks written to the church and from other church accounts between May 2006 and April 2013, according to court documents. She then deposited the money into the Women’s Society account, the only account for which she had authority to write checks or take money from, and withdrew the funds for her own use.

Much of the $605,052.38 Stroupe stole went to pay “exorbitant interest expenses” incurred on credit cards, Barton writes in the filing. At one time, Stroupe had more than 10 credit cards to her name.

Stroupe’s growing debt was an example of a “slippery slope,” Barton writes, explaining that Stroupe didn’t live an extravagant lifestyle. Rather, her debt grew so large, Stroupe couldn’t “appreciate it, understand its scope, or do anything about it.”

At no point did Stroupe accumulate the stolen money.

“The money was simply spent and is now gone,” Barton writes.

Before she pleaded guilty, the document says, Stroupe and her husband filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy to prove that the money was truly gone. Besides the restitution owed to the church as part of her plea deal, the Stroupes have been absolved of all other debt.

Barton goes on to argue that Stroupe, a mother and grandmother with no previous criminal history, shouldn’t serve time in prison because doing so wouldn’t serve any benefit to the public or the victim, and Stroupe would be unable to begin paying restitution.

“Mrs. Stroupe would be willing to pay all her Social Security income to the victim as restitution,” if granted probation, Barton writes. Stroupe receives $702 a month in Social Security.

If sent to prison, Stroupe, as an elderly inmate, would be especially vulnerable to stress, predation and abuse, Barton said before the prison sentence was handed down.

In the same court filing, three lifelong friends and one former coworker provided letters testifying to Stroupe’s character. They describe Stroupe as kind, caring, generous, with many family members and friends who love her dearly.

“I do not understand how (Stroupe) could be in this situation because that is not the (Stroupe) that I have always known,” writes one friend.

“Everyone makes mistakes and I am not going to judge her,” another friend writes. “She is truly sorry for hers.”

The filing also includes an evaluation from a psychiatrist who said Stroupe’s theft of church funds “became an isolated life.” She created a “vacuum of denial” and became helpless to fix the situation she’d created. In his evaluation, the psychiatrist says that Stroupe expressed remorse and showed empathy for Clover ARP.

Stroupe doesn’t require psychiatric care, he writes, but would benefit from being able to give back and pay restitution to the church.

In the court filing, Barton says Stroupe “is now ostracized by many in her community, condemned by her former pastor and emotionally devastated by the guilt she feels.”

Officials at Clover ARP did not respond to requests for comment, and last week, Barton said Stroupe had no comment.