Skip to content
Former church leader receives 11 years in prison for embezzlement

A former Los Angeles church board chairman was sentenced Monday to nearly 11 years in prison for stealing $ 11.4 million from the church in a wave of embezzlement that has lasted ten years.

Charles T. Sebesta, 56, of Huntington Beach was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson to pay $ 11.4 million in restitution to the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, where his elaborate plans siphoned off virtually all of the church’s assets, according to prosecutors.

Sebesta, who pleaded guilty last year to bank and electronic fraud, admitted to forging signatures on checks, setting up shell companies to submit false invoices to the church and intercepting bequests to the church from deceased worshipers . He also called on the church to “fire, ostracize and disbelieve those who worried” about his financial management, prosecutors told the judge in a sentencing memo.

Sebesta “destroyed a venerable church, its congregation and the faith that its faithful had in each other by employing sophisticated means to abuse its position of trust and cause the church not only substantial financial hardship, but ruin.” , and he treated the church “like his own personal piggy bank,” they wrote.

Wilson granted prosecutors’ request to sentence Sebesta to 10 years and 10 months in prison.

Sebesta, who has been in prison since his arrest two years ago, had suggested a prison term of up to six years. In a sentencing note to the judge, his lawyer, Patrick W. McLaughlin, cited Sebesta’s history of heavy drinking, his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and the difficulties of his isolation in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic. .

At the same time, McLaughlin recognized that incarceration was appropriate.

“Sir. Sebesta has clearly engaged in serious unlawful conduct towards the victim in this matter and sincerely regrets his actions,” McLaughlin wrote.

Sebesta used most of the stolen church money to cover luxury expenses for himself, his wife and their son, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars at an upscale hotel with “a partner romantic, ”prosecutors said in court documents.

When Sebesta oversaw the sale of $ 12.8 million in church property in Hollywood, they said, he converted most of the proceeds to personal use, using $ 2 million of that money to buy a house. .

Sebesta admitted that he also stole around $ 34,000 from an anonymous private high school that employed him.