MOREAU -- The lawyer for a local pastor who police say pilfered more than $400,000 from his former employer said Thursday that his client admits taking some money, but that the amount was nominal and would be repaid.
Jason LaPierre, 35, and a pastor at River Church in Kingsbury, was arrested on Wednesday after police say they linked him to the theft of at least $406,000 from the Hudson River Community Credit Union in Corinth.
His attorney, Mike Mercure, said LaPierre denies taking that amount, but that he admits to stealing $4,000 to $5,000 from the bank while working there over the last four years - money he now intends to repay.
LaPierre appeared in Moreau Town Court on Thursday to face felony charges of second-degree grand larceny and first-degree falsifying business records. He has pleaded not guilty and remains free on his own recognizance.
He did not respond to repeated questions from a reporter as he entered and left the courtroom.
He did not speak during the brief hearing, which came a day after he pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment.
State Police said on Wednesday that LaPierre was arrested after an investigation and an audit showed he had written false and duplicate checks while working at the bank over the last four years, later depositing the checks into accounts he controlled at other banks.
A statement provided by credit union Chief Executive Sue Commanda states bank officials began looking into LaPierre's activities in December after he was found entering inaccurate information on his timecard.
Vendors complained they had not been paid, though records discovered by bank officials showed otherwise. Further investigation showed a pattern of misappropriation by LaPierre, who was hired in May 2006 as a marketing specialist.
According to Commanda's statement to State Police, an audit found LaPierre stole $39,000 last year, $225,000 between 2008 and 2009, and $108,000 between 2006 and 2007. A more thorough audit is under way to determine the exact amount bank officials believe was taken.
It's unclear how the checks were deposited without the bank's endorsement, and Commanda said in her statement that she is concerned someone at the other banks may be involved.
State Police Investigator Robert Stampfli said on Thursday that authorities are still investigating that possibility.
Court records show at least two of the checks were deposited at a First Niagara branch, but Stampfli said several banks were involved. He would not name the banks.
Authorities have not said what they believe LaPierre's motivation may have been or how the money was used. If it is not recoverable, the bank is insured against theft, and no member accounts will be affected, according to bank officials.
Mercure, LaPierre's attorney, said he, too, was unsure what LaPierre's rationale may have been.
"He's obviously very sorry that this happened and is ready to deal with this head on," Mercure said.
He said it appears LaPierre's family had no prior knowledge of the alleged thefts.
The 35-year-old served as a pastor at the Kingsbury-based River Church on Green Barn Road, where neighbors say he built a home and has lived with his family for several years.
Neighbors described him as quiet and isolated and said they had exchanged few words. The church was vacant Thursday morning when a reporter visited.
Reached by phone, at least one church member, JoAnne Parker, said the allegations are difficult to grasp.
"I am surprised, and I find it hard to believe," said Parker, who has known LaPierre since his youth and has attended the church for the last year. "I just have to believe there is more to this story because it makes no sense it all. He's never been that kind of person."
LaPierre stopped preaching at the church two weeks ago and had disclosed that he lost his job but said little more, Parker said. The church remains open, but a new preacher has stepped in, she said.
Parker said she would continue to go to the church despite the allegations.
"A person's mistake doesn't change a whole church," she said. "There are a lot of great people there."
Randy Gross, the pastor at Queensbury's New Beginnings Community Church, said he only occasionally interacted with LaPierre but also described the alleged behavior as out of character.
"What I know of him, he seems to have a normal, healthy family," he said. "It's truly a tragic thing if he did commit the crimes - that he fell to that kind of temptation."