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NY church clerk who stole $1 million gets up to 9 years prison

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A 67-year-old woman was sentenced to up to nine years in prison for embezzling more than $1 million from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, much of it spent on expensive dolls, prosecutors said on Thursday.

In the years she worked as the church accounts payable clerk, Anita Collins stole $1,073,000 by writing 450 checks to herself and making them look like payments to vendors, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said.

"The defendant managed to embezzle from her employer through incremental theft, which exceeded $1 million over seven and a half years," Vance said in a statement.

Collins, who pleaded guilty in September to grand larceny, was sentenced to 4-1/2 to nine years in prison and ordered to pay full restitution to the church.

The theft was discovered after red flags were raised during the church's annual audit in December 2011, and Collins was fired soon after, said Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese.

Investigators scoured Collins' modest home in the Bronx borough and found an enormous collection of dolls, some from the Madame Alexander catalog, which sells a Rhett Butler doll for $449.95 and a Moulin Rouge doll for $749.95.

"There were 28 boxes of items taken from the home, about 20 of which were full of assorted dolls," a spokesman for the district attorney's office said.

In other cases where defendants are ordered to pay back the victim, he said, seized items are sold at auction or returned to the victim to help fulfill the restitution order.

Collins was first hired by the church in June 2003, when the archdiocese did not perform criminal background checks on prospective employees as it does now, Zwilling said. He said church officials were unaware she had a criminal record, which included a grand larceny conviction.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Eric Walsh)

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