EASTON, Pa. - An Easton teacher is accused of embezzling more than $300,000 from her own church.
Ann Marie Ballentine, 51, is a special education teacher in the Easton Area School District, according to Superintendent John Rinehart. She teaches in the grade seven and eight middle school, according to Rinehart.
Ballentine also served as the First Presbyterian Church of Easton's treasurer for a decade. She now faces several theft-related charges. Her church is both heartbroken, and hopeful.
Church members now face a difficult dilemma.
"We have an obligation to the church. We have an obligation to the community and we have an obligation to her. She is a member of our church," said Charles Young, current treasurer of the First Presbyterian Church of Easton.
Some members feel torn between seeking justice and offering forgiveness.
"The thesis of Christianity is forgiveness. Christ didn't come to save the good guys. He came to take care of the sinners. You have to look at this as an opportunity to help redeem someone. That isn't to say someone shouldn't be punished for their actions. We also shouldn't give up on them," Young said.
According to Young, members discovered accounting issues and confronted Ballentine a few months ago. He said Ballentine admitted to wrongfully using the funds and vowed to make up for the crime.
"When you say make up, you're thinking financial. But what is more pressing is making up to your friends and Christian family. How do you recover from that?" Young said.
He said members were devastated by the alleged betrayal. But he believes the church is stronger than it was before.
Instead of harping on the loss, he said members are moving forward and putting protective measures in place.
"Trust but verify--that's what we'll be doing. In our case, it's maybe trust, love and verify," Young said.
Superintendent John Rinehart said Ballentine is currently on leave and not teaching "until these circumstances have been thoroughly reviewed."
Allentown, PA 18102