Baptist university reports theft

Police say an employee used her position as controller to steal more than $100,000 from Missouri Baptist University between December 2009 and May 2012.

By Bob Allen

A Missouri Baptist University employee has been charged with embezzling about $107,000 since being promoted to the university controller’s position in 2009.

St. Louis County prosecutors charged 48-year-old Melinda Okai of O’Fallon, Mo., with theft of more than $25,000, a felony carrying a penalty of between five and 15 years in prison.

According to media reports, Okai allegedy executed fraudulent refund checks and took out numerous emergency student loans for her husband, who had been a student at Missouri Baptist University, between December 2009 and May of this year.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Okai confessed to her employer but refused to make a statement to police in Creve Coeur, the St. Louis suburb where the university’s main campus is located.

The newspaper quoted court documents alleging that Okai used two strategies. One involved refund checks that are issued when a government educational loan exceeds the amount of charges from the university. The other was emergency loans of up to $1,000 that are credited to students’ accounts in anticipation of receiving loan payments.

Police said Okai executed numerous loans on her husband's account but never credited the loans to his tuition. She was listed as her husband’s responsible billing party, so the checks were listed in her name and posted to her personal bank account, according to court documents.

Discrepancies reportedly totaling $107,406.39 were discovered during an internal audit.

Opened in 1957 as a campus extension of Hannibal-LaGrange College, Missouri Baptist College was chartered as a four-year liberal-arts college in 1964. It was renamed Missouri Baptist University in 2002, and today enrolls about 5,000 students on its main campus in western St. Louis County and several satellite campuses.

The school is one of five former Missouri Baptist Convention institutions sued over charter changes in 2000 and 2001 removing the state convention from involvement in electing their boards of trustees. Convention leaders dropped the complaint against one of the five, the former convention news journal Word and Way. The other four remain in various stages of litigation.

At the recent Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting in St. Louis, messengers adopted a budget that offers churches an option for a portion of their mission gifts to be used for legal fees related to the ongoing lawsuits.