You ‘robbed it from God,’ judge says as he places woman on probation for theft of $170K from Central Texas church
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A former church secretary who stole more than $170,000 from the First Baptist Church of Elm Mott was placed on probation Friday by a scornful judge who said she “robbed it from God.”
Before sentencing Angela Rubio, 52, to deferred probation for 10 years, 19th State District Judge Thomas West, skeptical that Rubio can make full restitution to the church, asked Rubio if she wanted probation or prison time.
Rubio said she wanted probation, telling the judge she would work “multiple jobs” in an effort to repay what she stole during her 10-year probationary period.
“I’m going to give you a choice today,” the judge said. “Do you want probation or do you want four to do? Because you know what happens if you don’t comply with every term of probation. Then you come back before me again and you are facing five to 99 or life.”
Rubio pleaded guilty in June to theft of more than $150,000 but less than $300,000 from a nonprofit organization, a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison.
Rubio’s attorney, Rod Goble, told the judge that Rubio could pay $12,000 on Friday and have another $3,000 by Monday.
“You stole from the church,” the judge said. “It is $173,370. That is a long way away.”
The judge admonished Rubio that with the restitution order and probation fees, Rubio was facing $1,500 in monthly payments to the probation department.
“I just don’t want to set you up to fail, and that is what it’s looking like,” the judge said.
West granted Rubio’s request for deferred probation, ordered her to pay the $15,000 by Aug. 29, repay $173,370 to the church and spend 12 weekends in jail as terms and conditions of her probation.
“The only reason I am doing any of this and not sending you to prison – because I really wanted to - is that the pastor forgives you,” West said. “The congregation forgives you, and they see the love of Jesus before they see jail bars. And they want their money back. Because you robbed it from God. It’s his money, from his people. And that’s the only reason you are not in cuffs right this minute.”
Rubio worked as secretary/treasurer for the church from 2013 until late October 2019. She admitted stealing church funds by using the church debit card for personal expenses, according to court records.
Church Pastor Jeb Barr requested an audit of church finances after a check to an air and heating company unexpectedly bounced in November 2019. The audit revealed $173,370 was embezzled from the church over a three-year period, beginning in 2017.
In a victim-impact statement Friday, Barr retold the familiar story of Zacchaeus, the unscrupulous tax collector from Jericho who repented and changed his life after Jesus forgave him.
Barr reminded Rubio that he told her that story more than three years ago in hopes she would seek the forgiveness of church members and Zacchaeus’ story “would be your story.” Sadly, Barr said, that didn’t happen, which made Rubio the true victim of this crime.
“We could have used your and your family’s help putting the pieces back together,” Barr said. “But you didn’t. And that’s why you are a victim, and probably the greatest impact has been on yourself and what you’ve missed out on by squandering the past three years that could have been spent on healing and restoration.
“You’ve missed out on people trusting you again. You’ve missed out on seeing God work through you to help those you’ve hurt. You missed out on overcoming shame and guilt and walking in new freedom… You’ve missed out on your Zaccheus story,” Dunn said.
After Barr’s statement, the judge asked Rubio, “You sure you don’t want that four?”
She said no.
“What did you just learn from the pastor?” West asked. “What did you just learn? Did you learn anything from what he just said?”
“I learned the door is open to rebuild and to work together and re-establish our relationships and grow with God,” Rubio said. “Even though it was tough, I know they forgave me a long time ago. The biggest problem is to forgive myself. It has been very tough.”
“Based on his faith, he wants to see if you can turn it around,” West said of Barr. “I am going to give you that chance. But if you come back in here, you will not be happy.”
West can revoke Rubio’s probation if she doesn’t comply with the terms and conditions he imposed. However, he can’t revoke her probation solely for failing to come up with the restitution if she proves she does not have the ability to repay it.
After the sentencing hearing, Barr said Rubio’s theft of funds was “devastating” to the small church, which he said averages 25-30 members on Sunday mornings.
“We went from what we thought was over $100,000 in savings and some more in checking to finding out it was all gone and we were actually in debt,” Barr said. “We are a small church with an old budling, and that $100,000 was to be the beginning of saving up someday to replace that building because the foundation has crumbled and it cannot be repaired. We had hoped to replace the building before it becomes unusable.”
Rubio and Goble, her attorney, both declined comment after the hearing.
Copyright 2022 KWTX TV. All Rights Reserved.