LOS ANGELES – A nun who was the principal of a Catholic elementary school in Torrance was sentenced today to 12 months and one day in federal prison for stealing more than $835,000 in school funds to pay for personal expenses, including gambling trips.
Mary Margaret Kreuper, 80, of the Arlington Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles, was sentenced by United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II, who also ordered her to pay $825,338 in restitution.
Kreuper pleaded guilty in July 2021 to one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering.
For a period of 10 years ending in September 2018, Kreuper embezzled money from St. James Catholic School. As principal – a position she held for 28 years – Kreuper was responsible for the money the school received to pay for tuition and fees, as well as for charitable donations. Kreuper controlled accounts at a credit union, including a savings account for the school and one established to pay the living expenses of the nuns employed by the school.
Kreuper, who as a nun had taken a vow of poverty, diverted school funds into the St. James Convent Account and the St. James Savings Account and then used the diverted funds “to pay for expenses that the order would not have approved, much less paid for, including large gambling expenses incurred at casinos and certain credit card charges,” according to court documents.
Kreuper falsified monthly and annual reports to the school administration to cover up her fraudulent conduct and “lulled St. James School and the Administration into believing that the school’s finances were being properly accounted for and its financial assets properly safeguarded, which, in turn, allowed defendant Kreuper to maintain her access and control of the school’s finances and accounts and, thus, continue operating the fraudulent scheme,” according to court documents. Kreuper also directed St. James School employees to alter and destroy financial records during a school audit.
The total losses Kreuper caused to St. James Catholic School were $835,339.
“On an annualized basis (approximately $83,000 per year), [Kreuper] stole the equivalent of the tuition of 14 different students per year,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “These funds were intended to further the students’ education, not fund [Kreuper’s] lifestyle. In their letters [to the court], several students and parents commented on how the school was lacking in resources…Another parent discussed [in a letter to the court] how [Kreuper] said there was no money for an awning at school and no money for field trips.”
The Torrance Police Department, the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation conducted the investigation in this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Poonam G. Kumar of the Major Frauds Section prosecuted this case.