Two Colorado newspapers have reported that Colorado Springs police are investigating a complaint from the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado that the Rev. Don Armstrong, former rector of Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs, embezzled money from the congregation.
Police told a reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper August 10 that the complaint was filed July 16 by the Denver-based diocese. The newspaper said police would not elaborate. Armstrong was described to the Gazette by police detective Michael Flynn as a "person of interest" in the embezzlement investigation.
The Denver Post reported a similar version of the story.
The five members of the Diocese of Colorado Ecclesiastical Court issued a preliminary judgment August 8 finding Armstrong guilty of diverting $392,409 from the parish's operating fund and committing tax fraud by not reporting $548,000 in non-salary income and benefits to state and federal tax authorities.
Armstrong was found guilty of receiving illegal loans totaling $122,479.16 in violation of diocesan canons; unauthorized encumbrance and alienation of Grace Church's real property; violation of the temporary inhibition placed on Armstrong; the improper use of clergy discretionary funds; and failure to maintain proper books of account.
The preliminary judgment marks the beginning of a 30-day period during which all parties have an opportunity to respond, after which the court will issue a final judgment along with recommendations for sentencing to the bishop, according to a statement from the diocese.
It is Colorado Bishop Robert O'Neill's responsibility to impose judgment. The bishop can, at his discretion, lessen the court's recommended sentence but cannot increase it.
Armstrong and some 340 members of the 2,500-member congregation voted in March 2006 to join the Nigeria-based Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) as Grace CANA Church in May and continue to occupy the parish's property. Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church continues to meet at nearby First Christian Church until a civil lawsuit filed with the El Paso County District Court is decided.
Alan Crippen, spokesman for Armstrong and his followers, told the Gazette that the diocese's investigation and trial was a "joke" and said Armstrong will cooperate with the police investigation. The congregation's website includes artwork on more than one page implying that the Ecclesiastical Court is a kangaroo court.
"We're looking for a fair and just venue to see that the good name of our rector is exonerated," Crippen said August 10. "We welcome this investigation and intend to fully cooperate with it. We have great confidence in the legal system of Colorado."
Police have not interviewed Armstrong, Flynn said, adding it's too soon to say how long the investigation will take.
"This could go on for quite some time. There's a lot to look at," Flynn said.