Church struggles with theft by treasurer

Monday, April 8, 2002

NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Rev. Larry Satorius thought he was taking a job as interim minister. He felt more like a private investigator.

It was snooping by Satorius that uncovered massive accounting problems and forgeries at First Presbyterian Church of North Kansas City. Authorities believe the check forgeries by church treasurer Kent Isaac Skidmore cost the church between $111,000 and $198,000, all of it given faithfully by 150 parishioners who are mostly in their 70s, tithed and willed to the church because they thought of the money not as their own, but God's.

Skidmore was charged with 19 counts of forgery. On Friday he pleaded guilty to nine.

The allegations stunned the congregation. After all, Skidmore, 48, had grown up in the church, where he had volunteered for 17 years as treasurer. Almost every Sunday he assisted his disabled mother. In the 78-year history of the little church -- through the shrinking membership, the graying of the congregation -- this would be its biggest test.

By the time the forgeries were discovered last September, all but $1,800 of the church's money was gone.

Satorius got suspicious when some of the church's bills weren't paid.

"It would have continued to happen if I hadn't got real nosy," he said. "We suspected Kent, but you just don't go up to somebody in a small church who has been going there all his life and say, 'I think you're a damn crook.' We had to find a paper trail to prove it."

So Satorius and church members Harold Scott and retired Municipal Judge Thomas E. Sims spent weeks poring over bank receipts, statements, bills that were paid and those that were overdue, trying to piece together what money disappeared and where forgeries occurred. They went to police, with evidence in hand, then to Skidmore.

Satorius tried to help his congregation. He preached sermons on being united as a family, dealing with imperfection and coping with anger.

Skidmore now faces a possible prison sentence of up to seven years on each of the nine counts and a fine of up to $20,000, or probation with restitution.

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