Police said more than $50,000 in cash was stolen from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Freedom by the church’s then-janitor.
Police said more than $50,000 in cash was stolen from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Freedom by the church's then-janitor. (Photo courtesy of Southern Regional Police)

The theft of more than $50,000 cash from a New Freedom church by its then-janitor came to light last month when a police officer spotted a basket of cash inside the janitor's home and became suspicious, according to police.

Joseph H. Leggett Jr., 62, of 22 Bartill Drive, Apt. L, in Shrewsbury, was arraigned Friday on felony charges of theft and receiving stolen property, according to court records. He is free on $10,000 unsecured bail.

Leggett is accused of stealing offerings given to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church between Nov. 1, 2012, and Dec. 2 of this year.

"It's a very sad occasion for our parish to have to face this trial," said the Rev. Joshua Brommer, pastor of the 315 N. Constitution Ave. church. "It's a great breach of trust ... especially when it's someone who worked with us so closely. It's heartbreaking for us."

Cop spied cash: Southern Regional Police Officer Michael Storeman went to Leggett's home Nov. 27 to arrest him on an outstanding warrant in an unrelated matter, according to police.

After Leggett invited the patrolman inside, Storeman saw a wooden basket filled with a large amount of cash, sitting on the living-room floor.

"The cash inside the basket looked like it was picked up ... and thrown into the basket," according to charging documents. "The money was wrinkled and crumbled."

When Storeman asked about the money, Leggett told him he "picks up" money he finds at the church while cleaning since the church office is closed and night, and also said the church paid him in cash, documents state.

'Alarming': The officer was unconvinced.

"I found Leggett's statements about the money very alarming and opened an investigation," he wrote in charging documents.

Storeman's investigation determined the church never paid Leggett in cash, and that he had keys that gave him access to the entire church, including the safe room, police said.

Early this month, Southern Regional Police searched Leggett's home and found more church cash. In total, police seized more than $50,000 stuffed in shoe boxes, grocery bags and wooden baskets throughout the apartment, documents allege.

Communion boxes: Also found and seized were two round brass containers with raised crosses on them that are commonly used during communion, and one of the containers contained communion wafers, according to police.

Officers also found a $100 check made out to the church from a parishioner, police said.

Leggett subsequently confessed to stealing money out of the church safe after discovering the safe did not lock properly, documents allege.

"I have taken steps to ensure ... this doesn't happen again," Pastor Brommer said, including getting a new safe installed, having new keys made and revising procedures for money-handling.

Rebuilding trust: Brommer said he will tell parishioners about the thefts during every Mass this weekend.

"I think one of the remarkable qualities of our parish is we are truly a very large family," he said. "When family members hurt each other, we deal with that as a family. We will move on and build up that trust again ... and continue to build up the parish."

Leggett is no longer janitor at the church, the pastor confirmed.

Forgiveness: If Leggett should choose to remain a parishioner at St. John the Baptist, he will be welcome, Brommer said.

"Our doors are open to all," he said. "Forgiveness is readily given -- we are in the ministry of reconciliation."

But part of reconciliation means justice must be meted out, Brommer said, so the church supports full prosecution of Leggett.

"I salute the Southern Regional Police force for their diligence," he said. "It's because of their attentiveness and care that this (situation) has been handled so well."

Leggett could not be reached for comment; it is unclear if he has retained an attorney.

-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.