Heavenly Hot Rods: Church Leader Charged with $1M Embezzlement

Lancaster, Penn.—The former treasurer of a 261-congregation Lutheran church synod was charged recently with embezzling more than $1 million in an alleged scheme to buy classic automobiles.
    Barry R. Herr, 61, was charged by Lower Paxton Township Police with 36 counts of criminal use of a communication facility and one count of theft by deception. Police said he made online credit card payments with stolen funds.
    Herr served for 28 years as treasurer of the Harrisburg-based Lower Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has 122,000 members in nine south-central Pennsylvania counties. Authorities allege that the scheme dates back to 1991.
    According to local authorities, Herr set up a bogus checking account called "Cardinal Investments" to write checks for his own purposes, largely to buy and restore foreign-made classic cars. He bought and sold numerous vehicles, and police linked three that he currently owns to the alleged scheme.
    The loss became known after the church suspected problems and ordered an audit, Hogentogler said. Herr was suspended from his full-time job in June and fired in July. Police began to investigate in November and searched Herr’s home last month.
    Herr has been cooperative with investigators.
    B. Penrose Hoover, the synod’s bishop, wrote in a letter to members that the money was taken from bequests to an overseas missionary program and from a fund to help pastors who need financial assistance, reported local media outlets.
    "This shocking and tragic event saddens us all and touches the lives of all who are part of the gospel ministry we share," Hoover wrote.
    The synod said its governing council has since tightened its financial controls.