Finance officer who stole from archdiocese surrenders

of Barrington was the chief financial officer.
of Barrington was the chief financial officer. (Anita Guzzardi)
Posted: March 14, 2012

The former chief financial officer for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia used her credit cards for trips to the Caribbean, gifts, and cash advances to play the slots at the Borgata.

And for six years, Anita Guzzardi used church money to pay for the spending spree, more than $900,000 in all, according to charges filed Tuesday. Among the destinations: the Atlantis at Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

Guzzardi, 43, of Barrington, Camden County, surrendered to face charges from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office of theft, forgery, and unlawful use of a computer. She takes responsibility for the theft, her lawyer said, and has paid back $150,000.

She is expected to plead guilty.

"This is a very sad day for her and her family," attorney Louis R. Busico said.

"As I've been saying all along, we've been aware that there is money owed by Anita, and she's been working diligently to make the Archdiocese of Philadelphia completely whole."

Guzzardi, who grew up in South Philadelphia and attended Catholic schools, had worked for the archdiocese since 1989. At one point, her job was to try to reconnect strayed Catholics to the faith.

She rose through the ranks of the financial office from clerk to controller and finally chief financial officer, the position that is supposed to serve as an internal watchdog against financial fraud.

"Anita was subject to oversight," said a statement by church spokesman Kenneth Gavin, but she took advantage of her position of trust, he said.

"She not only deceived the people that she reported to, but also the people that she supervised and worked with as a colleague," he said.

The embezzlement wasn't detected by the archdiocese's internal auditor, or by its outside auditing firm, Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Ed Lovelidge, managing partner of the firm's Philadelphia office, declined to comment, saying the company had a policy of not discussing work for clients.

Instead, an investigator from American Express figured out that church funds were being used to pay for cash advances at casinos.

Ordinarily, credit-card companies would alert the responsible party for the account. In this case, that person was Guzzardi. The company called the District Attorney's Office instead.

Guzzardi was escorted from the church offices on July 14, and the church began an internal investigation.

Starting in 2005, investigators later discovered, Guzzardi had sent 184 church checks to pay bills on two personal American Express accounts. They also found 146 checks written on the archdiocesan account to pay off her Chase card.

Guzzardi also brought her friends and treated her nieces to some trips, according to sources familiar with the bills.

The checks were written on the church's general operating account. Church rules said checks of more than $5,000 required two signatures, but Guzzardi kept them under that amount.

Corporate records list Guzzardi as the sole officer for the archdiocese's Catholic Charities Appeal, but church officials say she didn't steal from the charity or the capital campaign.

Guzzardi's thefts also didn't affect parish finances, or the decision to close some Catholic schools, a statement said.

"People are angry about this loss, and they're right. So am I," Archbishop Charles Chaput said in a weekly column last month. "There's no excuse for it."

Most of the loss will be covered by insurance, he said.

Since the theft was discovered, Gavin said, the archdiocese has hired a new chief financial officer and put in place new policies to prevent the abuse of travel and entertainment expenses, and on credit cards.

Busico, Guzzardi's lawyer, said that she does "hold herself accountable" for her actions.

"Having said that, tragically her situation is not the biggest problem currently facing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia," he said. Three current and former priests are currently on trial on charges of conspiracy and child sex abuse.

"We hope they will extend the olive branch of forgiveness to her at the appropriate time," he said.


Contact staff writer Joseph Tanfani at 215-854-2684 or at jtanfani@phillynews.com.

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