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Tuesday, August 07, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor held for theft

The former pastor of the Chickaree Union Church in Jackson Township will stand trial in Cambria County Court on charges that he stole thousands of dollars in church funds.

The Rev. Randy L. Rugh of New Alexandria, Westmoreland County, was charged with theft and receiving stolen property after he allegedly cashed a CD worth $23,540 without authorization.

The church along Route 22 on Chickaree Mountain is known as the “Jesus Saves” church because a sign proclaiming that message is posted on the building.

Members of the small congregation who have been fighting to get back what they say is church money were relieved when District Judge Mary Ann Zanghi ordered Rugh to stand trial on two charges.

“I’m very pleased,” said Terry Fletcher of Jackson Township.

“That money was given to the church and not to Randy Rugh.

“The money should stay with the church.”

Fletcher and his brother, Joseph, who filed the criminal charges against Rugh, were among 25 people who crowded into Zang-hi’s court to hear the testimony.

Several wore black T-shirts emblazoned with the message, “I pray. Do you pray?” on the front and the church’s name and likeness on the back.

The Fletchers said their grandfather, Lewis Ford, was one of three men who built the small church.

Marlin B. Teeter, former church treasurer, said the congregation began as a “cottage prayer meeting” in the 1930s. The church was built and dedicated in 1945.

Greensburg attorney Brian Bronson asked that the charges be dismissed because the issue is a civil dispute revolving around when the church was incorporated and Rugh’s authority to withdraw the funds.

A second church with the same name apparently was incorporated by Rugh in the Blairsville area.

Bronson also contended there was no way to show that the person who signed the withdrawal slip was Rugh.

Regardless of the incorporation issue, Assistant District Attorney Eric Hochfeld said Rugh had no authorization to withdraw that money.

Teeter still was church trea-surer when the certificate of deposit was opened with $22,301 in September 2001.

The money grew to $23,530 before the CD was cashed June 27, 2005, by Rugh, according to the testimony.

When the CD was cashed, the bank made out a check for that amount payable to “Chickaree Union Church Inc.” and it was cashed by Rugh, according to bank records.

But the small Jackson Township church never was incorporated, and it did not have a deposit for that amount of money, members said.

Another set of charges alleging that Rugh cashed a second CD belonging to the church was dropped because that money apparently did go into a church account.

Still pending in county court is a civil suit filed by 19 members of the congregation, who are suing Rugh for at least $25,000 for reportedly depleting church accounts without authorization.