POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Polk County church secretary has been arrested for stealing more than $750,000 from church accounts, according to the sheriff’s office.
Deputies say 62-year-old Sharon Bradley of Lakeland was hired as the finance secretary by Calvary Baptist Church, located at 2101 Overlook Drive SE in Winter Haven, back in 2008.
In late 2019, deputies say the head deacon asked for copies of the church bank statements based on an image seen by church staff that showed an active $225,000 line of credit, connected to another bank account that did not belong to CBC.
“When I got that snapshot and I made the phone call to MidFlorida to ask about it, that’s when my heart sank and that’s when we got the sheriff’s office involved,” Mike Pruitt, the chairman of deacons at the church and a retired Major from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, told 8 On Your Side.
Bradley realized an audit was being done and retired, according to Polk County Sheriff’s Office. The church staff contacted PCSO to do an investigation into the possible theft of church funds.
Deputies say PCSO detectives sent 20 different subpoenas to the various banks and credit card companies with which CBC had accounts. The line of credit Bradley obtained was being used to put money into CBC accounts, which she was then stealing, according to the sheriff’s office. There is still a balance of $190,000 on the line of credit that CBC will be responsible for paying off.
The bank and credit card company records show Bradley started payments from CBC accounts to her Capital One credit card in May of 2015. PCSO said some of the money Bradley took went toward clothing and beauty products, Netflix, Amazon, SeaWorld, Match.com, medical expenses, and more.
“This woman systematically stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a respected Winter Haven church for at least five years before she was caught,” Sheriff Grady Judd said. “I cannot fathom how anyone could do this, much less someone employed at a house of faith.”
“We have to make sure that we’re taking care of the Lord’s money. This is God’s money. This is his house. We should be taking care of it,” said Pruitt.
Bradley had taken a total of $768,050.73, $600,000 of which has been confirmed by the sheriff’s office.
She was arrested Wednesday and charged with grand theft over $100,000, fraud, criminal use of personal ID, fraudulent use of credit cards, forgery, uttering false instrument, and money laundering.
“You got to have checks and balances in place. You don’t need one person taking care of the books. You need oversight and oversight and oversight,” said Sheriff Judd.
Pruitt tells 8 On Your Side an Orlando company is auditing the church now and will present the church with best practices moving forward.
He is preparing to inform his 350-member congregation on the allegations against Bradley.
“That’s what I’m going to ask the congregation to do is that even though there’s some anger, and there will be, that we’re still going to be praying for her,” he said.