Free Methodist Churches of Arizona and New Mexico Hit by Embezzlers

Free Methodist Churches of Arizona and New Mexico Hit by EmbezzlersEXPAND
Ray Stern

If you gave money to Free Methodist Churches between 2011 and 2013, some of it probably ended up in the pockets of Mark and Marie Ann Stoltz of Phoenix.

During that time, Marie Stoltz served as secretary and treasurer of the Arizona Light & Life Conference of the Free Methodist Church, a nonprofit organization in Phoenix that is the administrative and logistics headquarters for the Free Methodist Churches in Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern Nevada.

As the faithful tithed their hard-earned money to the churches, Stoltz and her husband pilfered it from the organization's accounts, a few thousand bucks at a time — for a total of about $423,000. They pleaded guilty to felony charges of conspiracy and wire fraud recently in federal court and are scheduled to be sentenced on July 13 to potential prison time.

Local church officials and national representatives of the Free Methodist Church wouldn't talk to the Phoenix New Times about the embezzlement case, but one pastor with whom we spoke briefly called the case "huge." Messages to the Stoltzes weren't returned.

The website for Free Methodist Church USA shows more than a dozen churches spread throughout the Valley of the Sun. The Conference address is 4036 North 18th Avenue in Phoenix, a single-level home that's apparently used as an office.

As secretary and treasurer, Stoltz was "responsible for handling accounts payable, accounts receivable, bank reconciliation, payroll information, and other accounting duties on behalf of the Conference," federal records state. Records don't state how long Stoltz was in the positions, but authorities believe the embezzlement occurred between June 2011 and September 2013.

Mark and Marie saw the Conference as an easy mark, it seems.

Stoltz had a credit card issued from a Light & Life Conference bank account in the name of a former employee. Then she proceeded to ring up about $186,000 in charges over time. The couple put $150,000 on another card issued in Marie's name. The wire-fraud charge relates to her use of one of the cards to make an $1,400 online purchase of a Disneyland annual pass.

Marie wrote about $80,000 in checks to her husband from Conference accounts. The memo lines of the checks might read "reimbursement" or "parsonage repairs," but Marie knew work was never actually performed by her or her husband, records state.

The Conference is funded directly from church tithe money in Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Nevada.

Somehow, the couple got caught — does anyone really get away with this kind of thing? They were indicted on April 21 — Marie on both charges, and Mark just on the conspiracy rap. They cooperated fully. The plea agreement, which has yet to be accepted by the court, stipulates that the couple have to repay the stolen money. If the defendants fully disclose their bad deeds and accept full responsibility, the government agrees to argue for less prison time and to allow the Stoltzes to serve their time separately for the sake of their children.

Maximum sentences seem unlikely in this case, but Mark Stoltz may get up to five years in prison, while his wife faces the possibility of 25 years. The judge could order a fine plus restitution of double the amount of their theft, court paperwork shows. 

The criminal case came about a year after the Conference won a $355,000 lawsuit against the couple in Maricopa County Superior Court.

We can't tell you much about the Stoltzes, except that they run an online party-supply store called M&M Candle Club.

They want to be your "Partylite Dynamic Candle Duo" — for another few weeks, anyway.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX

Follow Ray Stern on Twitter at @RayStern


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