COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Two women have admitted they stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Columbus church.
Lalinriafaye Wilson and Nikiena Bowden Rogers pleaded guilty to theft by taking charges Tuesday in Muscogee County Superior Court.
According to their plea deal, the women must pay back $450,000 they stole from Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church downtown.
Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan sentenced Wilson to 50 years probation, whereas Rogers was sentenced to five years in prison and 45 years probation.
According to the state, Nikiena Bowden was a convicted felon when she was hired as a bookkeeper at Fourth Street Church back in 2003.
Prosecutors say she embezzled money from her previous employer and told the judge she did the same thing at Fourth Street, allegedly taking church checks and cashing them for herself over a period of two years.
Assistant District Attorney David Helmick says she gave some Lalinriafaye Wilson who also allegedly cashed the church checks for herself and her and her husband's church.
Helmick says because of Bowden's position in the church, she could cover it up and it wasn't until 2005 when a new bookkeeper was hired that the staff realized the checks and balances were out of whack.
According to prosecutors, close to half a million dollars turned up missing.
Wilson's attorney, Frank Martin, says church staff members received monthly financial reports and any misappropriation of funds would have been caught at the get-go.
The church's pastor, Reverend JH Flakes Junior took the stand says their books show that checks were stolen and funds were stolen. Flakes says checks were written to Bowden and Wilson in amounts of $2000 and $4000, none of which were authorized by his church.