Max pastor charged with unauthorized spending
Rev. Erin Gullickson, 48, Benedict, the minister at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Max, has been charged with Class B felony theft for allegedly spending nearly $80,000 of church funds without authorization.
According to documents filed with the court on Monday, the McLean County Sheriff’s Office began investigating after a report was made by the church’s council, stating that around $40,000 in certificates of deposit could not be accounted for. An audit eventually revealed to the council that the CDs had been deposited in 2019 into older accounts with Bremer Bank that were supposed to be closed, with the $40,304.15 spent completely within six months of the money hitting the account.
Further searching uncovered what investigators called “egregious expenditures” that were determined to have allegedly been made by Gullickson. Investigators say the purchases were made on websites such as Ebay, PayPal and Amazon on items like home decor, furniture, clothing, shoes, jewelry, vacations, or cash withdrawals totaling $79,968.44, beginning in 2016.
Investigators are alleging that Gullickson had access to a Youth League account and kept it open after the church council voted to move their banking from Bremer Bank to a local institution in Max. Gullickson is also accused of diverting portions of offerings destined for the church’s main account into the Youth League account she was surreptitiously maintaining. Gullickson was interviewed three times by investigators who say she claimed that the accounts had been “rarely used” and that her “greatest fear” was that church funds could be misappropriated or misused.
Gullickson, who also was the reverend for Concordia Lutheran Church in Benedict, was placed on a temporary suspension by the Western North Dakota Synod on Feb. 17. Bishop Craig Schweitzer told investigators that while reverends are trained not to get involved in a church’s assets or handle them, in small churches it is necessary for the reverend to be a signer only for the purposes of checks and balances.
Gullickson was also a board member of the Camp of the Cross. Investigators say they found no evidence that she had any access to assets or accounts held by Concordia or Camp of the Cross.
Gullickson has retained Attorney Ryan Sandberg, and is awaiting her initial appearance. An order signed on Thursday granted a continuance for the hearing until June 7.