updated 7/27/2007 7:41:41 PM ET 2007-07-27T23:41:41

Turns out somebody was watching from up above.

A longtime member of a church here has been charged with stealing about $28,000 over an 11-year period after church officials caught him on tape with his hand in the collection plate, authorities said.

William Biunno, 71, a former trustee and member of the choir at Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church, is accused of taking the money during Sunday Mass after it was collected from parishioners, Sgt. Vincent Gagliardi of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office said Thursday.

The church caught on late last year after an official saw something unusual on an in-house video surveillance system, authorities said. Because the camera wasn’t at a good angle to see all of Biunno’s actions, church officials added others that clearly showed Biunno pocketing the money.

Church officials brought the tapes to police, removed Biunno from his position as a church trustee and forbid him from helping with the collection.

Biunno, who declined to comment, continued to be an active church member and attended religious events right up until he was charged.

Taking cash from the church isn’t just a sin in New Jersey, though.

Church thefts in N.Y. too
Across the Hudson River in New York, a former altar boy confessed to repeatedly stealing cash from donation boxes at his old church to feed his drug addiction, according to documents filed in court Thursday.

In a statement to police, Matthew Belcher, who was arrested Wednesday, confessed to swiping money from St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in East Islip, N.Y., three times in May.

“I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but I was on a binge, a drug binge,” Belcher told police, according to the documents.

Surveillance videos at the church showed Belcher using a screwdriver or other tool to break the locks on four poor boxes on May 19, 20 and 29, Suffolk County police said.

The thefts occurred while the church was open, twice on Sunday afternoons.

Police couldn’t figure out how much money was stolen, but they estimated it was less than $1,000.

Belcher, 37, was charged with three counts of petit larceny and one count of criminal mischief, misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail upon conviction.

Belcher, an altar boy at the church years ago, pleaded not guilty Thursday and was released on $4,500 bail.

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