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Embezzler gets 5 to 10 years

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DETROIT — A woman who pleaded no contest to embezzling at least $700,000 from her church, crippling a reconstruction effort and causing a retired pastor to lose his pension was sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny bypassed sentencing guidelines in handing down punishment for Janis Ferworn, former treasurer of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Grosse Pointe Woods. She would have served no more than nine months under the guidelines.

"Mrs. Ferworn would have done far less damage if she had taken a bulldozer and knocked down the walls of the church," Kenny said Thursday.

Authorities said Ferworn wrote checks to herself from church funds from 1997 through January 2005. When the bank returned the canceled checks, she would paste the church's name over hers, make a photocopy and put it in church records, authorities said.

Ferworn, 45, said she began stealing money when her family was three months behind on their mortgage and faced foreclosure.

"I am horrified at what I did to my church," the mother of five said. "I pray that Christ the King will someday forgive me for these repugnant crimes."

Kenny said Ferworn also used the money on luxuries including a time share in Hilton Head, S.C., and a swimming pool.

"The money was spent on a lavish lifestyle: on cars, vacations, home furnishings, a maid, private school tuition, items all of us would like to have," Kenny said.

Kenny ordered Ferworn to pay $150,000 in restitution by July 5 and scheduled a Sept. 9 hearing to determine the exact amount to be repaid to the church.

"While it took Janis Ferworn seven years to systematically drain our finances, it will take us twice as long to rebuild our ministry and restore what existed," the Rev. Randy Boelter said.

Ferworn's lawyer, Gary Wilson, called the sentence excessive and said he might appeal.