NEW YORK — Following an 18-month investigation, the Pontifical Mission Societies announced March 25, in a joint statement with the Office of the New York State Attorney General, the recovery of about $1.4 million in funds stolen by a now-deceased official of the organization.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman praised the Pontifical Mission Societies for its full cooperation in the investigation, including for reporting financial irregularities as soon as the staff discovered funds were missing and verified they had been diverted.
"I'm pleased that we've been able to recover the stolen charitable funds and return a large sum to the societies so they can continue their important mission," Schneiderman said. "Today's agreement also ensures that these organizations will continue to enhance their controls to operate in a responsible fashion and prevent any future abuses."
"It's crucial that victimized organizations come forward and, like the Pontifical Mission Societies, take necessary steps to guard against future misconduct," he said.
Oblate Father Andrew Small, the organization's national director, thanked Schneiderman's office for all of its efforts.
"Following our uncovering and reporting of the theft, we worked with the Attorney General's Office to achieve a recovery of stolen funds that rightly belong to the poor and to strengthen our internal controls and board oversight," he said in a statement.
The priest called it "a model form of collaboration," saying the day's announcement "allows us to put this sad affair behind us and to focus on our mission of helping poor churches and communities around the world."
According to the Pontifical Mission Societies, the organization began making some changes to its accounting procedures in 2011. In the summer of 2012, the staff found inconsistencies in financial records for one of the organization's funds.
In September 2012, when chief financial officer Raymond Schroeck fell ill, the organization verified that checks had been diverted and reported the discovery immediately to church and civil authorities, including the New York State Office of the Attorney General.
A subsequent investigation conducted by the attorney general found that Schroeck had stolen about $1.7 million dollars over a nine-year period, starting in 2003. The investigation found that while his wife benefited from the theft, there is no evidence that she was actually involved. Schroeck died in September 2012.
During the 18 months it took authorities to investigate the theft and recover most of the stolen funds, the Pontifical Mission Societies organization was asked by the attorney general's office to make no public statement about the probe.
But the organization said it kept its board of directors and other church authorities informed of the situation.
All of the stolen funds are likely to be recovered, so "there will likely be no net loss to the missions," Father Small said.
The Pontifical Mission Societies said no monies it received from U.S. dioceses were ever part of the theft. The theft was limited to one account housed at the national office called the Pooled Income Fund.
A spokesperson for the organization said the Office of the Attorney General is satisfied with changes it has made in its accounting procedures since the theft was discovered and those changes will remain in place.
The Pontifical Mission Societies include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Missionary Childhood Association, the Society of St. Peter Apostle and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious. The societies support more than 9,000 health clinics, 10,000 orphanages, 1,200 schools, 80,000 seminarians and 9,000 religious sisters and brothers in more than 1,150 mission dioceses -- mostly in Africa and Asia.
The Missionary Union of Priests and Religious is a spiritual society of prayer for the missions.