Former Bellefonte business owner allegedly stole from church
The former owner of a Bellefonte candy store was contrite as he was sentenced Tuesday for stealing more than $167,000 from St. John Lutheran Church.
Chuck Kormanski, who was the church’s treasurer and also owned Pappy Chuck’s Candy Shoppe, wrote 379 checks to himself over a seven-year period “for his own personal gain,” according to a criminal complaint filed in January by Bellefonte police.
“I want to apologize for my actions,” Kormanski told Centre County Judge Brian Marshall. “I failed them.”
Kormanski’s apology came after Assistant District Attorney Josh Bower read Marshall a letter on behalf of the congregation, which said Kormanski’s arrest was “a personal embarrassment to many.”
In addition to the financial loss, members of the congregation said they grappled with the loss of trust in a fellow member and “stressful” media coverage.
“He thought of himself and no one else,” Bower said on behalf of the congregation.
The church has since reduced salaries and paid positions, while some wondered if the church would close as a result. Pastor Will Osman said the church has since reexamined its checks and balances and instituted new policies and procedures “to be transparent with the congregation ... to show we were too trusting.”
Kormanski, 57, pleaded guilty in June to 10 felony counts of theft by unlawful taking. His “bad choices” were because of decreasing income and increasing living expenses, he said.
“I had other choices. I could have gone to family for help, but I was used to giving instead of asking,” Kormanski said. “I discovered that asking for help is a sign of wisdom, not weakness.”
Kormanski’s statement gave some insight into what was behind his “duplicitous actions,” Osman said.
“Not that it justifies it, but at least it opens the curtain to our main question: Why did he do this? And why didn’t he come to us for help?” Osman said. “He mentioned his family, but as his church family, perhaps we could have helped him in some way because that’s what we’re to be about — supporting each other and community.”
Osman, who attended the sentencing, said he still cares about Kormanski and referred to him as “a brother in Christ.”
The church was thankful for the terms of the plea agreement — 11.5 to 23.5 months in the Centre County Correctional Facility, five years of probation, 250 hours of community service and more than $167,000 in restitution — and was grateful that Kormanski admitted wrongdoing, Osman said.
Kormanski received credit for 10 days served and is set to report to jail Tuesday. He filed for chapter seven bankruptcy in February and, according to the application, estimated his liabilities to be between $100,001 and $500,000.
“We’re seeking to move forward. We’re seeking to heal. Hopefully, this will be another step in the healing process,” Osman said. “We continue to pray for Mr. Kormanski and his family during this sad time. It is also our prayerful hope that our congregation can continue to heal and move forward in doing the ministry of the church in Bellefonte in the days ahead.”