By Doug Ireland
---- — BRENTWOOD — The former nursery school director at a Londonderry church pleaded guilty April 17 to stealing money from the congregation.
Lisa Wallace, 42, of Wakefield, Mass., received a one-year jail sentence in Rockingham Superior Court with 10 months suspended for two years for good behavior.
Wallace fought back tears as Judge N. William Delker chastised her for using a credit card from St. Mark the Evangelist Church to buy $16,671 in items for herself.
Delker agreed with prosecutor Terri Harrington that the mother of three young children acted selfishly when she made dozens of unauthorized purchases.
The judge was also critical of Wallace after her attorney, Sandra Bloomenthal, told of how his client began making the purchases in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts because she and her husband were having financial difficulties.
“That is not what we as a society can tolerate,” Delker said.
Wallace was charged with stealing the money during the four years she worked at the church, where she also handled bookkeeping duties before leaving in June 2012.
She continued to use the credit card after leaving the church, Harrington said.
The Diocese of Manchester contacted Londonderry police in April 2013, after church officials discovered money was missing. Wallace turned herself in to police in June.
The thefts led to the layoff of workers and nearly closed the six-employee nursery school, Harrington said.
Wallace was confronted about the more than 80 unauthorized purchases and insisted she didn’t take the money, Harrington said.
“She denied that there was anything wrong with the transactions,” Harrington said. “She was entrusted to the entire parish, which she let down. From the state’s perspective, it was true selfishness. People lost their jobs because of her selfishness.”
Wallace made purchases in several communities in both states, spending $2,124 in Londonderry alone. Police have said she used the credit card at a salon, clothing store and Dunkin’ Donuts in Londonderry.
She pleaded guilty to a single theft charge in connection with those purchases. If convicted at trial, Wallace faced three and half to seven years in state prison.
Wallace also faced theft charges in Lynn, Malden and Woburn, Mass., district courts, Harrington said. Many of those charges are still pending, she said.
Bloomenthal defended Wallace, asking that she be spared jail time. She said Wallace and her husband — who have children ages 7, 8 and 10 — were having a tough time paying his $13,000 in medical bills and could no longer afford their mortgage payments.
“What happened was times got really, really hard,” Bloomenthal said. “She was worried about being homeless — things just came crashing down on her.”
Bloomenthal said Wallace has a master’s degree and was a gifted teacher.
“She has had a good productive life all of her life,” the attorney said. “She will never teach again because of this.”
Delker agreed to Harrington’s recommendation that Wallace spend 60 days in jail, even though the judge said he thought the request was lenient.
As Wallace was being led off to jail, Bloomenthal said she wanted to appeal the sentence imposed as part of the plea agreement.
Delker refused, saying it was not allowed and telling Bloomenthal “you should not be practicing criminal law.”
Bloomenthal refused to comment as she and Wallace’s husband left the court. No one from the church or diocese was available for comment.