Episcopal Priest Charged With Defrauding Foster Care Nonprofit in Kansas of Millions of Dollars

[Episcopal News Service] An Episcopal priest who previously served as head of a nonprofit foster care agency in Kansas has been suspended from his priestly duties as he faces allegations that he conspired with an internet contractor to defraud the organization of at least $4.7 million.

The Rev. Robert Smith was charged by a federal grand jury with 16 counts of conspiracy and wire fraud and one count of money laundering, according to an indictment filed Nov. 9 in the U.S. District Court in Topeka. He and his co-defendant, William Whymark, are accused of a scheme of overpayments to Whymark for web development work at Saint Francis Ministries, based in Salina, a small city in central Kansas about 90 miles north of Wichita.

Smith served as chief executive officer at Saint Francis Ministries from 2014 until November 2020, when he was forced by its board to resign under suspicion of financial mismanagement. Details of the alleged fraud scheme, which dates back to 2018, have only now been made public after a two-year federal investigation. Investigators accuse Smith of receiving a “kickback” of $50,000 from Whymark for illegally approving invoices for the overpayments. Smith also allegedly misused an organization credit card for “cash withdrawals, clothing and jewelry purchases and expenses associated with travel for Smith and his family members,” according to the indictment.

Saint Francis Ministries, which provides a range of foster care and adoption services across six states, was founded in 1945 by an Episcopal priest. It continues today to promote itself as operating within the “Episcopal tradition,” and, though independent, all of its presidents through Smith have been Episcopal priests.

Smith was ordained in 2011 in the Diocese of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, but is canonically resident in the Diocese of Chicago, where he previously served as a priest with LaSalle County Episcopal Ministry in central Illinois. After learning of the federal indictment last week, Chicago Bishop Paula Clark issued a statement saying she had suspended Smith “from any and all priestly and ministerial duties,” and ordered that “he has no direct access to credit cards, bank accounts, or any other funds held by the church.”

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Source: Episcopal News Service