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Couple charged with taking money from monastery

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By Andrew Wolfson/Courier Journal/Kentucky Press News Service

The former accountant for the Abbey of Gethsemani was indicted Wednesday for allegedly stealing more than $1 million from the monastery, according to Nelson County Commonwealth's Attorney Terry Geoghegan.

A grand jury returned an indictment accusing John E. Hutchins and his wife, Carrie Lee Hutchins, of 87 counts of theft — 40 of them for allegedly taking over $10,000.

The money was allegedly siphoned from the abbey's mail-order business from 2008 through February.

Hutchins' lawyer, Luke Morgan, said the Hutchinses will plead not guilty.

In a statement, the abbey said "this breach of trust has been harmful to the network of good will that exists among the monastery's employees, neighbors, visitors and benefactors."

The statement, issued by Abbot Elias Dietz, said the monastery is working with professionals to develope financial controls to prevent future thefts.

"We continue to pray for Mr. Hutchins, his family, and all those affected by these allegations," the statement said.

The indictment does not mention Hutchins' claims that he was fired for disclosing alleged sexual misconduct at the monastery, but it says the thefts began long before the misconduct he has cited.

The abbey's lawyer, Kevin Ford, said this week that were was no connection between the accusations against Hutchins and information he presented to the abbey's leaders.

Hutchins, 39, began working for the abbey in 2007.

Arraignment was set for May 26, according to Geoghegan, who said Hutchins' lawyer, Luke Morgan, has promised he and his wife will surrender that day in court.

Hutchins and his wife, 44, also were charged with 87 counts of unlawful access to a computer.

The indictment says that the 47 thefts were between $500 and $10,000 and the balance over that amount. The total amount allegedly stolen was $1,060,000.

The monks became suspicious after examining one check for $20,000, and Hutchins was suspended with pay Feb. 17.

He allegedly opened an account under the name J.E. Hutchins, transferred the abbey's money to it, then wrote checks and made bank card withdrawals, which he used for home improvements and vacations. The couple live about three miles from the monastery near New Haven.

Forty-two monks live and work at the abbey, which is supported in part from sales of cheese, fudge and fruitcakes.

Founded in 1848, the abbey is the oldest continuously operating monastery in the United States.

It is best known as the home of Thomas Merton, the mystic and author of 70 books, including the best-selling "The Seven Storey Mountain." Merton entered the monastery in 1941 and lived there until he was accidentally electrocuted by an electric fan in 1968 on a trip to Thailand.