Man charged in Niles church theft

NILES, Ohio (WKBN) — A Niles man was secretly indicted Friday by a Trumbull County grand jury after being accused of stealing nearly $100,000 from his parish.

Michael Marrara, 58, was indicted on a charge of grand theft and was arrested Friday afternoon. He will remain at the Trumbull County Jail until his arraignment Monday.

Several parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and pastor Fr. John-Michael Lavelle said Marrara was the head of church maintenance for more than 10 years. He also served as the head of the parish festival committee during that period.

Fr. Lavelle told WKBN 27 First News Trumbull County Bureau Chief Jeff Levkulich that he learned from the previous pastor that Marrara had misused a church-issued Sam’s Club Discover credit card by using it to buy $9,300 worth of personal items.

Lavelle said there was an agreement that Marrara would pay it back, but he only made two $300 payments and then the payments stopped. The former pastor was transferred to another parish, but informed Lavelle of the theft before he left.

Shortly after Fr. Lavelle was installed at Mount Carmel in June 2012, Marrara allegedly made another unauthorized purchase for pool supplies.

“We (the church) do not have a pool,” Fr. Lavelle said.

When Marrara was confronted, he admitted making the purchase and Lavelle said after consulting with the church’s legal counsel, Marrara was fired in mid-July 2012.

Lavelle said this prompted him to go back and re-examine the church finances prior to his arrival.

Fr. Lavelle said they discovered some of the $97,000 Mararra allegedly stole between 2007 and 2011 was used for tires, his home’s utilities, his cell phone bill and school tuition for family members. He said the previous pastor likely did not know about the rest of the embezzlement.

The pastor said he wants parishioners to know that steps were taken immediately when he discovered the theft and there has been no financial mismanagement of church money since then. Other personnel changes at the parish were made, but they had nothing to do with the theft, Lavelle said.

“I’ve been working with the Niles City Police Department since the day I terminated him. I made a police report then, and we’ve been working together. And so I want people in the parish and the community to know that we’ve been on top of this for nearly two years and we’ve put a lot of procedures in place to make sure that this would never happen again,” he said. “Well first of all, there are no parish credit cards with people’s names on them. That was part of the problem. So there are no accounts or credit cards that anyone has access, myself or anyone else. We make sure that the person who signs the checks, which is me, is not the person who writes the checks or prepares the checks or opens the bills. There’s a three-step process for that.”

Lavelle also said that the church festival last year after Marrara’s termination was the most successful one to date and the next one will happen in July as planned.

Lavelle said he will be seeking full restitution, but also is hoping the church’s insurance will cover some of the loss since Marrara was an employee.

“We need to make sure that people’s monies and contributions are safeguarded. So although we are a people of forgiveness and would certainly offer that, there has to be restitution with that forgiveness and reconciliation,” the priest said.

He said parishioners will be informed of the situation at this weekend’s services.

Marrara also is a sewer worker for the city of Niles.

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