GRAPEVINE, Texas — A former finance manager at one of the biggest churches in Texas - Fellowship Christian Church in Grapevine - pleaded guilty to theft, diverting more than $1.3 million to herself, according to court and police records.
Lara Lynn Ford, 51, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to Tarrant County court records. However, she may apply for shock probation, which could suspend her prison sentence for theft, court records indicated.
An audit of the church’s banking accounts found Ford bilked $1,377,000, according to a Grapevine Police offense report.
The theft occurred from December 2008 through April 2019, her indictment said.
When asked by police why she committed the theft, she responded: “Umm, stupid,” the police report said.
She also told police she had a spending problem, the report said, and would “buy things she doesn’t need and would help people.”
Ford told police she began stealing from Fellowship Christian by taking money from the offering, then graduated to making fraudulent bank transfers to three personal checking accounts, the report said.
The church has received $750,000 in insurance claims due to the theft, according to the Tarrant County DA.
The investigation into the theft was triggered when Fellowship Christian CFO Dennis Brewer discovered “discrepancies with some transactions” in April 2019, according to the police report.
Ford tapped into a housing allowance account used by the church to supplement employee base pay. Records show Ford increased her pay an extra $200 every two weeks from the housing allowance account. Then, in January 2019, Ford increased her pay an extra $500 every two weeks out of the housing allowance, the police report said.
Brewer told police he first began questioning “shortages” in church accounts and demoted Ford as finance manager in 2018, but she still remained in the accounting department with access to the housing allowance account, the police report said.
Ford began working at Fellowship Church in 2005, and had no prior criminal history.
The theft also comes while Fellowship Christian Church has received two government PPP loans of $1.5 million in April 2020, and another $1.5 million March 2021.
WFAA has reached out to Fellowship Church and the lawyer of Ford for comment.