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By CINDY SIMPSON
The trial of an Oliver Springs couple accused of stealing thousands in funds from an area church has been continued for the second time.
Gary E. Thomas and his wife Wanda J. Thomas, 770 Mahoney Road, were indicted in June 2006 on charges of theft from New Fairview Baptist Church in Oliver Springs.
Gary E. Thomas was charged in one count of theft of property $60,000 or more, while his wife Wanda faces one count of theft of property, $10,000 to $60,000.
Both have pleaded not guilty in the case against them, which was originally set for trial in December 2007.
The trial was rescheduled for March, but another continuance has been requested.
Wanda Thomas’ attorney James S. Smith asked for a continuance earlier this month because he had not been given legible copies of evidence and time would be needed to look at the evidence in preparation of the trial.
He also filed for the case to be dismissed because of these claims.
Assistant District Attorney Frank Harvey said the Thomases were in court Monday for a hearing on several motions.
According to church pastor John Edward, Gary Thomas was the church’s treasurer for 11 years before he and his wife, who worked as a church custodian and was a Sunday school teacher, were asked to leave after accusations of theft arose.
“The way he was able to get away with it for so long was because the church trusted him,” Edward said.
The pastor alleged that Gary Thomas would provide falsified reports to church committees.
Church officials became suspicious when someone told one of the church deacons a lot of money was being spent at Wal-Mart.
When the church began to make repairs to the parsonage, it could not pay many of the businesses where they got supplies on credit because many of the accounts were overdrawn.
“We appreciate the local businesses who worked with us during that difficult time,” Edward said.
Edward said he doesn’t know how much was taken from the church over the years, but the indictment was for the last five years, which was all that was allowed under the statute of limitations.
He said the amount in the indictment includes the amount of money obtained through checks, not the cash that was given to the church in tithes.
Edward said bank documents show months where no deposits were made at all into church accounts despite incoming tithes from church members.
He said the church is around 100 members strong and was probably collecting between $500 to $1,500 in church funds any given Sunday.
Edward claims that one way in which the Thomases took money was that Gary Thomas paid Wanda more than the agreed-upon amount for her custodial services at the church.
He said a substantial amount of checks were written to Wanda Thomas; some even have her endorsement.
The church pastor claims one of the most hurtful things about the situation was that the Thomases were a trusted part of the church community and could have turned to the church for help.
“That is one of the things so disheartening about the situation. Our church is willing to help anybody that needs help,” Edward said.
The pastor said he and the congregation want the issue settled and the Thomases to admit what they did and get forgiveness.
“Not only with the church, but also with themselves and with the Lord,” he said.
“That is all we desire.”
Gary Thomas was reached for comment at the couple’s home but said he would need to first check with his attorney before commenting.