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Press Release

Former Sutter County Church Administrator Convicted for Fraud and Identity Theft

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal judge found Chanell Easton, 38, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, guilty Monday of two counts of aggravated identity theft, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

On May 19, 2022, a grand jury returned an indictment, charging Easton with 22 counts of wire fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. Easton pleaded guilty to the fraud counts on Oct. 17, 2023, but persisted in her not guilty plea to the remaining two counts. A jury trial was waived, and the one-day trial was held before U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, from 2013 to 2018, Easton worked as the church administrator at a church in Yuba City. During her employment, Easton stole over $360,000 from the church, including from its food pantry and youth ministry, during a years-long embezzlement scheme. Easton used credit cards associated with the church to make personal purchases — at a hair salon, retail stores, online retailers, a vacation rental service, and to buy VIP concert tickets — and then paid off the resulting balance with the church’s money. One of the credit cards Easton used during her scheme belonged to the church’s youth minister, and Easton used his identity to make thousands of dollars in unauthorized personal purchases on Easton’s use of the youth minister’s identity allowed her to obscure her embezzlement and to shift suspicion away from herself, thereby allowing her fraudulent scheme to continue.

Easton also transferred money directly from the church’s bank accounts to her own personal account, paid down the balance of her own personal credit card, and paid her cellphone provider for her personal bills and for new phones. Easton also stole money from the church by writing checks to others for personal expenses and by writing checks to herself, on which she forged the signatures of the church’s treasurer or the head volunteer of the church’s food pantry.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elliot Wong and Lee Bickley are prosecuting the case.

Judge Mendez is scheduled to sentence Easton on June 25, 2024. Easton faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count of wire fraud, and a mandatory two-year sentence on each count of aggravated identity theft. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

Updated March 5, 2024

Financial Fraud
Identity Theft