updated 12/18/2004 1:48:04 AM ET 2004-12-18T06:48:04

The housekeeper at a Catholic parish’s rectory stole more than $173,000 from collections by rifling through the envelopes early each Monday and then making computer entries to cover up the thefts, authorities said.

Amy J. Caldwell, who worked for St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Green Tree for nearly a decade, was charged Friday with theft.

Church officials began a general investigation of their finances after state police in West Virginia found two bank deposit bags by a road in January. That prompted an audit, and the church changed the way it counted and stored its collection money — putting it into sealed, tamperproof bags.

Once that happened, the church’s weekly collections increased dramatically, leading church officials to conclude that someone had been stealing money.

Caldwell, 35, was among the church employees interviewed by a diocesan auditor and the church’s assistant pastor. They say Caldwell said she started stealing the money sometime in 2000 and continued through April.

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