Shelter remains shut as its former director faces trial

Church pastor accused of stealing $44,508 from women's refuge in city

April 22, 2003|By Ivan Penn and Greg Garland | Ivan Penn and Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

After finally repairing the damage caused by a 1993 fatal fire, things were looking up at the Susanna Wesley House women's shelter in Mount Vernon.

The Methodist Church-owned shelter at 609 Park Ave. was raising enough donations to support a seven-person staff. And volunteers had committed to give their time and skills for programs to help the homeless women and their children in the program.

Then came another devastating blow: Tens of thousands of dollars turned up missing, and the shelter was again forced to close its doors at the end of 2001. And at the center of the investigation into the missing money was the shelter's executive director, the Rev. Paul A. Murray, a Glen Burnie church pastor and chaplain for the Anne Arundel County Police Department.

A Baltimore grand jury indicted the 40-year-old Murray in December on charges of felony theft, which carries a term of up to 15 years in prison if he is convicted. He is scheduled for trial in Baltimore Circuit Court on May 5.

Murray, who resigned from the Susanna Wesley House in April 2001, is accused of stealing $44,508.46 from the shelter between August 2000 and June 2001. A memorandum to the court from city prosecutor Isabel M. Cumming stated that Murray wrongly used the nonprofit group's credit card and secretly took cash and checks.

A review by The Sun of court, corporate and insurance records related to the case also found that Murray:

Ordered payments of $8,200 of the shelter's money to ASAP Professional Services, according to Circuit Court records. ASAP is a desktop publishing and marketing company owned by Murray and his wife, Rachel, according to corporate records.

Deposited $12,199.63 into his personal bank account, court records show.

Gave a $5,000 raise without approval or paperwork to the shelter's payroll clerk who wrote and cashed $1,372 in unauthorized checks at his request, according to insurance records.

Because of the charges, Murray was forced to resign last month as executive director of RESPECT Foundation Inc., a nonprofit education organization in Anne Arundel County that is conducting an extensive audit of its finances, according to Clemon H. Wesley, president of the group.

And the Anne Arundel County Police Department has suspended him from his chaplain duties, a spokesman said.

`Supports their mission'

Murray declined to comment on advice of his lawyer.

The lawyer, William C. Mulford II, said the issue is simply a matter of confusion over what spending authority Murray had as the shelter's executive director. Mulford said Murray maintains he did not intend to do anything wrong.

Mulford said if it is determined that Murray wrongly spent money, full restitution will be made.

"Reverend Murray wants to see that those monies are repaid," Mulford said. "He supports their mission. He doesn't want to see any harm come to them."

The women's division of the United Methodist Church has been working to restore business at the 84-year-old shelter that has sat vacant since November 2001.

"It was heartbreaking because we had a wonderful mission going there helping women and children," said Irene Callbeck, a board member of Susanna Wesley House.

Callbeck said she felt duped by Murray, who she said had won over board members with his charm.

"He was very personable," she said. "It seemed like he just filled the bill. But there was another side to this man that we didn't know."

Murray took over operations at Susanna Wesley House in the summer of 2000, a year and a half after the shelter was restored from damage by the fire. A woman boarding at the shelter, then known as Park Avenue Lodge, had set a fire in 1993 that killed three other women living in the facility.

Methodist missionaries opened the shelter June 9, 1919, as a haven for women who moved from rural communities to the city and were looking for work or getting an education. During its early years, the shelter housed as many as 64 women at a time, sometimes four to a room.

Haven for women

When it was reopened after the fire, the shelter became a haven for homeless women and their children.

"There weren't many women who wanted to live in boarding houses anymore," said Joyce McCallister, secretary for the shelter's board of directors.

Jonna-Lynn K. Mandelbaum, now of New Mexico, became the new facility's executive director, serving from January 1998 until April 2000.

"I was very excited about it," she said. "We worked with single women and women with school-age children."

When Mandelbaum left for health reasons, board members began a search that attracted Murray, who had worked with other nonprofit organizations, including pastoring the Apostolic Lighthouse Church in Glen Burnie, a part of the United Pentecostal Church International.

Murray also worked as a marketing and community relations director for Hospice of the Chesapeake from June 1998 to August 2000. In the position, he was named a Maryland state finalist for the JC Penney Golden Rule Award, according to the Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.

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