By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The former chief financial officer of the embattled Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia has pleaded guilty to stealing $906,000 from the church, the district attorney's office said on Monday.
The archdiocese, facing a $17 million budget hole and still reeling from last month's conviction of a monsignor in a child sex abuse scandal, was the target of a forgery and theft scheme run by former financial officer Anita Guzzardi.
The former CFO admitted on Friday that she stole the money from 2004 to 2011. Guzzardi, 43, was fired in July 2011.
"Guzzardi was terminated from her newly promoted chief financial officer position after she was confronted and initially denied any wrong doing in July of 2011," the prosecutor's office said.
She used most of the money to pay personal credit card bills for cash advances as well as purchases at casinos in the United States, Caribbean and Mexico, the prosecutor said.
"Guzzardi also wrote high-dollar checks payable to herself," the district attorney's office said.
So far, $250,000 of the stolen money has been recovered and returned to the church.
Guzzardi faces up to 21 years in prison when she is sentenced on August 24 on charges of theft by deception, forgery and unlawful use of a computer.
Faced with a $17 million shortfall, the archdiocese recently laid off 45 staff members and closed the archdiocese newspaper.
The church said that paying the legal costs for Monsignor William Lynn - convicted of covering up child sex abuse - and the theft by Guzzardi were not part of the $17 million deficit. The archdiocese also faces at least seven civil suits by alleged sexual abuse victims who are seeking damages.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Lisa Shumaker)