GBI investigating thousands missing from church accounts

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the possible embezzlement of more than $128,000 from a Baptist church in Lincoln County, law enforcement officials said Friday.

Double Branches Baptist Church in Lincolnton reported the missing money to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 30, according to an incident report.

The discovery resulted from an internal investigation by church officials into failures to pay a bank note on a church-owned vehicle, the report stated. Officials told police that money was found to be missing from the church’s cemetery fund, its Georgia Baptist Convention fund and other accounts.

They also reported that “a great deal of money” had been used for personal gain and that unauthorized credit cards had been acquired in the church’s name.

A church financial officer has resigned a position he held for 16 years, the report said.

No arrests had been made as of Friday, officials said.

GBI special agent in charge Mike Ayers said the sheriff’s office had turned over the case to his agency. Ayers said he had been waiting on the results of a forensic audit of bank accounts to be completed before proceeding with the investigation. He said that audit was delivered to him Friday.

“We are trying to digest all of this information before moving forward,” he said.

Lincoln County Sheriff Gerald Lawson said that he couldn’t discuss case details but that news of the investigation had begun to ripple through the community.

“This is a big deal here,” Lawson said. “A lot of people are going to be hurt.”

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