Former ECUSA treasurer released from custody

Published January 1, 2001

Former church treasurer Ellen F. Cooke, convicted in 1995 of embezzling $2 million from the Episcopal Church in the United States is to be released from federal custody this month.

Ms. Cooke was transferred to a halfway house in Norfolk, Va., in September and transferred to home confinement in October. She is still considered to be under the jurisdiction of the federal prison system until her final release.

Ms. Cooke, 57, had been incarcerated since January. 1996, for embezzlement, transferring stolen money across state lines and tax evasion. She pleaded guilty to the charges in federal court and was sentenced to a five-year term, which was to begin August 26, 1996. The church later recovered all but about $100,000 (U.S.) from the sale of Ms. Cooke’s home, a farm and personal property, as well as from insurance claims and settlements with commercial institutions.

Ms. Cooke served as treasurer of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society – the national church’s corporate body – and of General Convention from 1986 until January 1995, when she was asked to resign by former Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning. The embezzlement was discovered one month later.

Ms. Cooke reportedly used the stolen money for jewelry, to lavishly furnish her homes and to pay for her sons’ private school tuition.

Her original sentence was longer than federal guidelines call for, but U.S. District Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, noting that she rarely ordered stiffer sentences, said at the time that the circumstances of the case “scream for” a longer sentence.

Ms. Cooke appealed the sentence but was not successful.

When Ms, Cooke pleaded guilty in January 1996, she told the judge, “I must have done it,” but testified that she could not remember the crimes, which included redirecting church deposits into personal bank accounts. She was described as suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder .


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