Theft alleged at Abbey of Gethsemani

Abbey of Gethemani (Record File Photo by Marnie McAllister, 2011)
Abbey of Gethemani (Record File Photo by Marnie McAllister, 2011)

A former employee of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Nelson County, Ky., and his wife have been indicted for allegedly stealing more than $1 million from the abbey’s mail-order business.

A grand jury in Nelson County last Wednesday, May 7, returned the indictment accusing John E. Hutchins and his wife, Carrie Lee Hutchins, of 87 counts of theft. Nearly half of the alleged thefts involved the alleged taking of more than $10,000.

The thefts allegedly occurred between 2008 and February of this year.

The Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville reported on the alleged thefts on the day of the indictments, and also noted that Hutchins, in his defense, said he was the victim of a “cover up.” He accused leadership of the abbey of attacking him in an attempt to hide what he said was sexual misconduct by monks and others at Gethsemani. According to the newspaper, Nelson County Sheriff’s detective Jason Allison said investigators were aware of Hutchins’ allegations, but that they were irrelevant to the theft investigation.

The newspaper also reported that Hutchins made a video of two lay employes of the abbey having sexual relations. He also wrote an 11-page letter in his defense, but Detective Allison dismissed that, too, telling the Louisville newspaper that he doesn’t “investigate affairs.”

According to Abbot Elias Dietz, who is also president of the abbey’s mail-order business — Gethsemani Farms — abbey leadership discovered “improper financial transactions” in February and reported them to law enforcement.

Hutchins had been an employee of the abbey’s bookkeeping office since 2007 and was suspended when the improprieties were discovered and has since been fired. The abbot also released a statement on the situation on May 7 and it is reprinted here in its entirety:

“The Abbey of Gethsemani (Trappist, Ky.) has learned that Mr. John Hutchins has been indicted by the Nelson County Grand Jury with charges that include 80-plus counts to include theft by unlawful taking and unlawful access to a computer. Mr. Hutchins had been employed in the abbey’s bookkeeping office since 2007.

In February of this year the Abbey of Gethsemani discovered improper financial transactions and reported these to the police. At that time Mr. Hutchins was suspended from his position pending an investigation. His employment has since been terminated. The abbey has cooperated fully with the police investigation.

This breach of trust has been harmful to the network of good will that exists among the monastery’s employees, neighbors, visitors and benefactors. With the help of professionals, the Abbey of Gethsemani is developing a new system of financial controls to reduce the risk of a theft of this nature from happening again.

We continue to pray for Mr. Hutchins, his family, and all those affected by these allegations.”

The attorney for John and Carrie Lee Hutchins said his clients will plead not guilty at their arraignment, which is set for May 26.

Forty-two monks live at the abbey, which was founded in 1848 and is the oldest continuously operating monastery in the United States.

 

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