Fenwick receives maximum sentence

Monday, November 23, 2009

GREENCASTLE -- A Greencastle woman accused of stealing over $350,000 from the church where she worked as a financial and administrative secretary has been given the maximum executed sentence allowed by Indiana statute.

Melynda J. "Mindy" Fenwick, 37, was convicted of six counts of Class C felony forgery and six counts of Class D felony theft. At her sentencing hearing Monday, Putnam County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley ordered Fenwick to serve 10 years at the Indiana Department of Correction followed by five years on probation.

Fenwick was arrested Aug. 11 after discrepancies surfaced during an audit of the books at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle. She was initially charged with six counts of Class C felony forgery and five counts of Class D felony theft. A sixth Class D felony theft count was filed on Oct. 9.

At an initial hearing on Aug. 13, Fenwick pled not guilty to all charges. She changed her plea on Oct. 29, pleading guilty to all counts.

Under Indiana statute, the maximum sentence for non-violent crimes alleged under the same case number is the advisory sentence for the next highest felony charge -- in this case a Class B felony, for which the maximum sentence is 20 years and the advisory sentence is 10 years.

Fenwick wrote 192 checks to herself -- totaling $335,000 -- from Gobin's accounts. In addition, she made about $21,000 in unauthorized charges on the church's credit cards.

Fenwick confessed to forging signatures on the checks and to doctoring bank receipts to cover it up.

Court records indicated that Fenwick began stealing from Gobin shortly after she was hired in late 2004.

"Mrs. Fenwick, your actions have caused so much grief for so many people," Headley said. "But anyone who goes to church knows that forgiveness is a cornerstone theme of the church. Hopefully you'll be able to be forgiven someday ... but right now, you must be punished."

Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter recommended Fenwick be given the maximum sentence allowable.

"If not today, when?" he asked. "If not here, where? If not Mindy Fenwick, who?"

Fenwick's attorney James Ensley asked for leniency for his client, pointing out that she had no prior criminal history and had pled guilty to all counts without the benefit of any plea agreements.

"She fell on the sword in this case," Ensley said.

With Indiana good time credit, which allows one day's credit for every day an inmate serves without incident, Fenwick will likely be released from prison in five years. Her sentence could be further decreased if she holds a job in prison or earns educational credits.

Although she has never been prosecuted, Fenwick admitted she had been fired from the two jobs she held before Gobin -- one at a bank and one at a factory -- for stealing.

"I guess the third time you figured you'd get slapped on the wrist again?" Bookwalter said.

"No sir," a tearful Fenwick said. "I didn't know what I thought."

Fenwick said she couldn't say for sure where the money had gone.

"It went different places," she said. "I don't buy extravagant things."

Bookwalter produced records that indicated Fenwick had spent the stolen money on a Wii videogame console, beer, a riding lawnmower, groceries and a desktop computer.

"So, the church was paying for your living costs?" Bookwalter asked.

Fenwick said she often used the money to help other people and to take them out to eat.

"So while the church is dying, you're treating people to dinner?" Bookwalter asked.

"Yes," Fenwick said.

One of the state's witnesses was Vera Farber -- a longtime Putnam County resident and DePauw School of Music graduate who has been involved with Gobin since its beginning in the 1920s.

Farber had donated $60,000 to a fund Gobin had set up to repair its pipe organ -- a fund that was depleted as a result of Fenwick's thefts.

"At first I was so sorry for (Fenwick)," Farber said. "Then I became angry. I worked and saved a long time to have that much money to give."

On the stand at Monday's hearing, Gobin Pastor P.T. Wilson said the news of Fenwick's crimes "sent a shockwave of uncertainty through the church."

Wilson described his relationship with Fenwick as "very warm, very friendly."

Bookwalter asked Wilson what his first thoughts were after Fenwick's thefts were exposed.

"At first, disbelief," Wilson said. "Then a strong sense of betrayal that month after month after month after month she came to these meetings and gave these reports, and everything was fabricated."

Wilson said he had done ministry in women's prisons in the past, and had worked with women who embezzled. In hindsight, he said, he could see some of the same traits in Fenwick he had seen in those women.

"I felt very foolish," he said.

Greencastle Police Department Detective Capt. Randy Seipel said Fenwick's case represented the largest embezzlement loss he had ever dealt with in his 22 years in law enforcement.

"To keep this up for four years; to keep the numbers flowing; to keep the confidence in her from the church built up ... that made what she did quite sophisticated, in my opinion," he said.

Jeff Hansen, a lay leader and 15-year member of Gobin, said Fenwick's crimes had been very hard for him and other members of the congregation to deal with.

"She wasn't a member of our congregation, but we viewed her as part of our church family," he said. "She was one of us."

David Bray, a certified public account who has been a member of Gobin for 35 years and has acted as its treasurer for about 25 years, described the church's financial position as "obviously devastated."

"We've managed to get by," he said. "But we had projects and programs planned that now won't happen."

Bray said the church literally had no money.

"What will you do this winter if the boiler goes out?" Bookwalter asked.

"Wear coats," Bray replied.

"What if the roof goes bad?" Bookwalter asked.

"We'll have to bring umbrellas," Bray said.

Putnam County Adult Probation Officer Rebecca Brush prepared Fenwick's pre-sentence investigation report.

"The thing that struck me as odd was that (Fenwick) never expressed any remorse," Brush said. "She never said she was sorry or expressed any empathy for her victims."

Ensley countered that Brush never asked Fenwick any direct questions about whether or not she was sorry about her thefts.

Fenwick said she did have remorse.

"I felt bad about it all the time," she said. "I just felt like I couldn't get out of it."

Bookwalter asked Fenwick if she felt bad about her thefts or about the fact that she had been caught.

"I feel bad period," she said.

Chris Hanneman, 20, has lived with Fenwick on and off since his early teens.

"She's a very nice lady," he said in court Monday. "She's a devoted mother. I look up to her ... I never would have thought she would do something like this."

Phyllis Neumann, a family friend who has known Fenwick "since Mindy was born," said Fenwick was the sole caregiver for her family and that "her children are her life." Neumann said Fenwick being sentence to prison time would cause great hardship for her family.

"I can't imagine three teenagers and two young children being left without a mother," she said.

Fenwick's younger sister, Tonya VanDiver, said the time since her sister's arrest had been "very stressful and difficult."

Bookwalter asked VanDiver if she knew where the money Fenwick has stolen had gone.

"She's never told me why she did this," VanDiver said. "She just said she's sorry."

Fenwick also said she was worried that her family would suffer if she went to prison -- but Bookwalter took issue with that notion.

He pointed out that Fenwick made $24,000 per year in her position as church secretary, and that she and her husband together were taking in about $3,800 per month. He estimated that Fenwick had stolen about $80,000 per year, and he surmised that she spent a large amount of that money on her family.

"The very people you're using as your hardship here today benefited from this money," Bookwalter said.

Headley said Fenwick's case should "send a message" to other businesses, not-for-profits and churches that they need to be diligent about conducting independent audits of their books.

"Your most trusted employee is the one you need to watch," he said.

Headley gave Fenwick until Friday to report and start serving her sentence.

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  • Good ! now let's move on

    -- Posted by Sand mann on Mon, Nov 23, 2009, at 4:12 PM
  • Did the courts review and audit the bank records of her family and friends? There very well might be some cash stashed in someone's bank account that could go directly back to the church.

    Has the lawnmower and the Wii been sold in order to begin to repay the church back?

    -- Posted by just a local on Mon, Nov 23, 2009, at 6:12 PM
  • -- Posted by Scripted Spontaneity on Mon, Nov 23, 2009, at 6:49 PM
  • NOW Bookwalter asks for the maximum sentence - why not in other cases?

    -- Posted by S B on Mon, Nov 23, 2009, at 6:55 PM
  • This is a very heart sicking situation. I wish I knew what made people feel so out of control that they do things like this. Mindy, I know you on a personal level. You coached my son in Soccer for a season a few years ago. You are such a nice person! How did things get so out of hand? I hope the system can help you find a better way! Your children are going to miss out! You need to figure out why you think it is okay to do these things. You should have just gone to the church and asked for help! Best wishes for trying to get a new better way of life!

    -- Posted by dontdunme on Mon, Nov 23, 2009, at 10:44 PM
  • sad for all concerned- She deserved punishment but not to take the heat for political mistakes made before-her punishment should have been determined by her case alone, not hte poor history in this county

    -- Posted by talkymom3 on Mon, Nov 23, 2009, at 10:59 PM
  • i am not sure how long it has been since she worked at old national bank and one of the factories but it says she has worked at the church since 2004. she was fired from both prevoius employers for stealing money. nobody knows those amounts except the employers. she was told no charges would be pressed if she would repay those amounts. how many years has she been stealing? 5-6 yrs from the church plus two other jobs before now, that might be over 10 yrs. an extra 50k free for the last 10yrs? she does need help, serious help. who could steal directly from God and think nothing would happen?

    -- Posted by badboy46120 on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 12:23 AM
  • Karma!

    -- Posted by EasilyAmused on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 6:08 AM
  • talkymom3: It might not be wise to assume that she got the maximum penalty due to "political mistakes made before." Note again the facts of the case: This was the largest embezzlement a 22-year detective had ever seen. It more than doubled previous thefts in the county. It happened over a period of time longer than 3 years. And the defendant in the case--though never charged--openly admitted she stole from two previous employees. So there is a 10-year pattern of thefts, and the current theft she is being sentenced for is over $300,000. If that is not a maximum penalty case, I don't know if there ever will be one. Headley did not need to "make up for past mistakes", the magnitude of her crime called for this level of justice.

    -- Posted by cloverfan on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 9:07 AM
  • I have had to help clean up after this kind of theft and I tell you, these people know exactly what they are doing. They always have pervious incidences that help prepare them for the next job that is just perfect for their plundering. They don't care who they hurt because they are self centered and egotistical. I hope this stiff sentencing will send a NEW message to these kind criminals, no more probation for ruining companies and non-profits that you are paid to watch over and protect! The punishment must fit the crime every time, no matter who you are or aren't. Period!

    -- Posted by Hairy Tiger on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 9:45 AM
  • talkymom3....I agree that there have been some mistakes in sentencing in the past but I don't think her punishment was to make up for that. This is the 3rd time she has stolen from an employer. The first two, she got off scott free. $350,000 is a lot of money. Most of the money she stole was donated by people that worked very hard to give to their church. This was not impulsively thinking "I need extra cash to buy groceries for my kids so I will steal this petty cash my boss has here in the drawer". This was well thought out lasting over 3 years. She will never be able to repay that money back to the church. So I think 10 years (she will be out in less than 5) is fair.

    -- Posted by putnammom on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 10:19 AM
  • I hope someone in this criminal's family, care enough about the children, relocate them and give them a fresh start... together with their father in a new town, new school, etc. I've heard women incarcerated in Indiana are not doing that hard of time. It seems the public would be amazed of how many rights and priveledges they have inside(or outside, they hang out all over the prison yards). One could continue an education, and focus on it,probably at no cost to the criminal...and who knows...maybe major in computers and accounting, and get credit off their sentence, as well as volunteer at the chapel..., etc. Sort of a vacation from responsibility, and a focus time to become the best U, U can B.

    -- Posted by Sputty on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 10:30 AM
  • I can't believe someone would steal all this

    money and can't account for it? I think the

    money is somewhere for future use. Why didn't

    the church do a background on Mindy, my employers

    always do? She did the crime, pay the time!!!

    -- Posted by Iamforgiven on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 10:59 AM
  • I wish people would quit feeling sorry for her and her family......they had to know that her salary wouldn't support everything she was buying. Bet No body knew she had 4 horses and bought them all in the past 2 yrs. Maybe the church can find them and sell them to get some of their money back. Makes me ill to think I thought she was a good person! Lets all move past this I hope she gets the whole 10 yrs. It will take the church more than 10 yr to get all that money back.

    -- Posted by FEDUP! on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 11:17 AM
  • do u know what i think that they should not sell the horses b/c what if her son wants to finish his last year in 4H. i love my mother to dear life and i am going to really miss her and if u guys really dont care about her then dont say **** about her or judge the whole family she is a really nice person and i would take a bullet for my mother anytime in my life time.

    -- Posted by rodeo2010 on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 12:08 PM
  • TO: rodeo2010 Son of Mindy...

    A 4H'er with a Potty Mouth? She has been Judged! Will be Judged again. Better be careful with your Views on what has happened and make this a positive learning experience.

    -- Posted by macvrod on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 12:33 PM
  • rodeo2010 Ofcourse everything including the horses should be sold with the proceedes going back to the church, and if her son wants to finish his last year of 4H fine, buy a rabbit.

    -- Posted by Trying hard on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 12:45 PM
  • Let he who has no sin cast the first stone. i believe that mindy did wrong and needed to be punished and she has received her punishment. however, i don't believe that it's right to take the position that you have some sort of insight into the minds of her family and what they were or were not aware of. you don't know what they thought about. i know and love this family and i admit that it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't have any idea about how much mindy was spending but i also don't think they knew that she was stealing.

    "macvrod" and "pointer"...her kids have enough on their plate without adults coming down on them. who says that 4H'ers don't have "potty" mouths..macvrod? that's the most ridiculous, immature statement i've seen. i've heard alot worse and you don't know what you would say to someone who was saying things about your mom. why do you have to throw judgement in his face when i'm sure he gets more than his share of it from kids his own age. Grow up! There is no sense in picking on mindy's kids..they didn't steal. LEAVE HER KIDS ALONE!

    No one is perfect. Everyone has done something wrong in their lifetime..maybe not as severe as this but still wrong. please consider that before you leave comments about a person.

    -- Posted by concernedcitizen09 on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 2:35 PM
  • rodeo2010

    no one said she isn't a nice person but the courts say she is a THIEF. the whole family will pay for her greed. and I'm sure it is GREED. you say you would take a bullet for her but would she do the same. I'm sure she is the kind of person who loves her children. as finishing 4 H,pointeris right: a rabbit is a good idea. maybe a bar of soap for your mouth.

    concernedcitizen09, what is wrong with showing rabbits?

    If I was a betting person , one of the reasons for stealing was to buy things they couldn't afford in the first place.

    It's funny people say leave kids out of it but it looks like she brought the kids in the picture. I'm really sorry for the children hope they learn from this.

    -- Posted by Sand mann on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 7:59 PM
  • "Forgiveness"

    Readers....how many of you will look to the Scriptures to understand just what this word means

    and also read"Forgive them Father, they know not

    what they do"

    -- Posted by mothersue on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 8:02 PM
  • people really have no idea

    -- Posted by topher_hanneman on Tue, Nov 24, 2009, at 8:36 PM
  • Why , UMAD & MACROD are you bringing up things about the FENWICK family? I hope you know that Mindy is married to a Fenwick not a Fenwick by blood! Leave the kids alone leave her husband alone & leave the Fenwick family alone!!!! You are very harsh & you must think you know everything!!! Mindy has commited a crime ..she is going to prison..the kids should not have to take any mouth from either of you..find something better to do with your time! You never know when trouble might come into your lives...so watch what you say about others...it just might come home to you!

    -- Posted by reader55 on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 12:08 AM
  • sand mann- there's nothing wrong with showing rabbits but who are you to tell this kid what he can and can't do? you don't know where the money came from to buy the horses...no one knows for sure. the authorities are going to do what they're going to do and that's who needs to be making those decisions.

    i don't see how mindy "brought her kids into the picture" she didn't shine a light on them nor did she refer directly to her children concerning anything she bought with stolen money. did they benefit from it; sure they did. did they know their mom was stealing...i don't think so. even if she did decide to bring her children into the picture; that doesn't mean everyone else needs to do the same. what did those kids do to you? they wanted something and their mother provided for it (illegally so)....what teenager doesn't want everything...it was up to her to tell them no. again i'll say LEAVE THE KIDS ALONE! they didn't lie, cheat or steal any of that money!

    -- Posted by concernedcitizen09 on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 12:11 AM
  • UMad- Get off it! why is it that the sheriff is catching flack just because a fenwick is in trouble? How do you know how caring or uncaring the fenwick family is? i'm sure there are a few black sheep in your family as well...care to share YOUR last name so that someone can dig up the dirt that i'm sure is there somewhere and make comments online about them? every family has problems but you don't just lump them all together and make assumptions about them...that's like saying all mexicans are poor or all black people commit crimes...it's ridiculous. each individual person in this world makes his/her own decisions every single moment of every day...mindy chose her path and now she has to live with it...However, i don't think every fenwick needs to go down it with her.

    -- Posted by concernedcitizen09 on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 12:16 AM
  • Too bad that she gets to wait until Friday to report for her sentence. I think that these criminals should be taken into custody immediately so they can begin serving their time and not be able to prepare themselves for their time in prision. Their victims certainly do not get time to prepare to be victimized.

    -- Posted by Palimino on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 7:47 AM
  • mothersue: Perhaps--perhaps--more understanding of forgiveness as prescribed in Scripture is needed for you, as well.

    Forgiveness in the Bible was never meant to serve as an avoidance of consequences. Scriptures teach clearly that we make real choices that have real consequences. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, and is commanded of us in interpersonal relationships. Meaning, that one, God forgives us of wrongdoing should we believe in His Son, and two, we are to show forgiveness to others instead of seeking revenge ourselves.

    However, the Bible does not prescribe forgiveness for the legal system and governments of a country, nor does it command those institutions to show forgiveness. Our legal system is in place to bring justice, and by that statue forgiveness is a rare or even altogether foreign idea in the courts; as it should be.

    What the Scriptures would demand of this situation is for anyone who was harmed in this crime--a la the church itself, and even her family--that they should show Mindy forgiveness. However, the role of the court is to bring justice. They are not exclusive, but both serve their purpose. The idea of forgiveness is not presented by God to create a world in which there are absolutely no consequences for our actions, for that world would be complete and utter chaos.

    -- Posted by cloverfan on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 8:28 AM
  • concernedcitizen09 , i understand ur view but we as parents are supposed to teach our children right from wrong, we shouldn't teach them if you don't have ..steal it. sometimes just say no isn't just about drugs. i believe she brought her entire family into this mess. lets face it if she wasn't a thief ,noone would be commenting on this article. her choice. a bad one i might add. these are comments and anyone had a right to write them . some are deleted and some aren't as nice. if you make a comment there is always a chance someone will comment on yours.

    so to the child , don't ask questions unless you are ready for the answers. I hope this goes away for you. Anger is not the answer.

    Forgive is the easy part ,Forget, different story

    -- Posted by Sand mann on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 9:32 AM
  • From what I have observed, she didnt beg the courts for leniency, she said she felt remorse, if she said she was sorry, then everyone would say well you are just sorry you got caught.

    -- Posted by TwilightR on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 9:37 AM
  • I am sure that the Fenwick will celebrate Thanksgiving, since Mindy doesn't report until Friday.

    Mindy will be thankful she didn't get sentenced to more time.

    Her children will probably be thankful that "the court thing is over" and that maybe in time people will forget and they can move on with their lives.

    Mindy is suppose to report on Friday, will that be after her "Black Friday" shopping trip?

    -- Posted by Taxpayer5253 on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 9:57 AM
  • taxpayer5253 : what if is after our shopping trip? it is none of yours or anyones elses business! we handle this situation as best as we can. the only thing that makes things worst for us is when people have to judge all of us., and have thier oppinion about how she should be punished. im sure more than just one family are friends with or related to a criminal. is it right to judge everyone around them? i do not believe it is. NOONE has the right to judge. IT is up to GOD. To all the other commenters that have speak thier oppinion or gossip about lies. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS GOING THROUGH OUR MINDS. SHE IS SENTENCED. THE CRIME IS DONE. SO GET A LIFE AND TRY TO RESPECT PEOPLE MORE.

    -- Posted by topher_hanneman on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 3:14 PM
  • Banner Graphic close the commentary.This is stupid and the family is being hurt. Enough is enough.

    -- Posted by citizenoftheworld on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 7:26 PM
  • There is one thing that we all should think about-The Hardest Thing for people to do is FORGIVE. Everyone please think about that!

    -- Posted by peace2019 on Wed, Nov 25, 2009, at 8:08 PM