GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Grand Rapids man is facing a felony charge, accused of stealing nearly a million dollars from his church.
The nine-page incident report from Grand Rapids police lays out the accusations against Christian Bileth, 55, claiming he stole more than $812,000 from St. John’s United Church of Christ between March of 2014 until the end of 2019.
“The information came to us in July of last year,” said GRPD Sgt. John Wittkowski.
Police interviewed several people about the missing money, including the church council president, secretary, and former treasurer.
“A member of the church who located through their internal investigation some impropriety with regards to the handling of church finances,” said Wittkowski. “After their internal investigation they contacted the police department, and then we picked up the criminal investigation from there.”
The documents allege between May 2018 and May 2019, the church investment accounts did not match the books.
When a co-signer on the accounts passed away, Bileth was the only one left.
Witnesses told police they tried to put someone else on the account for security and accountability purposes but Bileth kept “dragging his feet.”
When he stopped attending the church, he stayed on as council president and maintained control of the investment accounts.
“It was somewhat unique in that he had ties to the church because he was a member, and he was seen as an elder and someone in leadership,” said Wittkowski.
A new council president took over last May.
In their meetings, they found a check had been cut from one of the investment accounts to Core Audit Consultants, which was never approved or voted on.
According to this Linked In page, Bileth is that company’s president, which is where investigators allege he funneled the missing money for six years - more than 66 checks in all - stealing $812,000.
Church members told police Bileth was the only one who could cut the checks, and they were written directly to his company.
The money could have a huge impact on the long-term viability of the church.
If the missing funds cannot be recovered, it’s concerning to employees and the entire congregation.
“You know, we’re talking about particularly in this time where people are disengaged from their community, sometimes their spirituality and the place that they worship is all they may have, and if this church is unable to continue on – and I’m not saying it won’t be able to – you have to look at the bigger picture here,” said Wittkowski.
An anonymous letter addressed to the FOX 17 Problem Solvers pleaded with us to look into the issue.
The writer said they were a church member and that they have not been told anything about the case.
If the allegations are true, it’s a good reminder about who to trust even if they go to your church.
“I’m not saying for a second that this particular church didn’t do all they could do as far as oversight and accountability,” said Wittkowski, “but if you overly trust or put most or all the responsibility in the hands of a single individual, you’re opening yourself up for impropriety.”
Bileth turned himself in to police and is out on bond awaiting trial.
His attorney Jeffrey Kirchoff would not comment.
The pastor and the church attorney also could not talk at this time.
Bileth faces one felony charge of embezzlement over $100,000. He could end up in prison for 20 years if convicted and be fined up to $2.4 million.