NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Bronx woman who worked for the New York Archdiocese is accused of embezzling more than $1 million from the church.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office said 67-year-old Anita Collins was employed in the archdiocese’s finance office since 2003. Prosecutors said she billed the archdiocese for non-existent services and channeled the money into accounts she controlled.

WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell On The Case

Collins was fired from her job in December after the alleged fraud was uncovered by the archdiocese. She appeared at her arraignment Monday night as a single still camera clicked away. A trusted employee is now disgraced.

“She’s incredibly remorseful and ashamed. Yes, her hands were trembling. She’s an elderly woman. She’s taking it very hard,” attorney Howard Simmons told CBS 2’s Lou Young.

Police were seen earlier Monday taking pieces of artwork and boxes of what were described as “expensive high-end dolls” from her home, along with records that indicate some dramatic spending habits:

* $18,000 worth of furniture from Bloomingdales

* $23,000 in clothing from Barney’s

* $14,000 from Brooks Brothers

* $19,000 worth of incidentals from the Irish gift shop

It turns out Collins has a criminal past that the archdiocese didn’t know about. In 1999, she pleaded guilty to grand larceny of $46,000 from a temporary employment agency.

“She was actually hired almost immediately before our criminal background check went into effect,” archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said.

“There will always be individuals who seek to exploit and circumvent whatever system is established, but we will remain vigilant in our oversight. We are continually working to improve our financial controls in order to prevent such occurrences from happening,” Zwilling added.

Collins’ neighbors were very surprised about the revelation.

“She seems nice; seems like a hard-working woman, believe me,” Cookie Laterra told CBS 2’s John Slattery.

Added Zwilling, Collins is “a very quiet woman, unassuming woman who went about doing her business.”

Her business turned out to be diverting huge sums of cash to herself, according to the archdiocese.

“She would issue checks for herself for personal use that she would make appear as if they were going for legitimate expenses of the Department of Education,” Zwilling said.

Collins allegedly issued 450 checks of $2,500 or less, which was below a threshold for approval. And if you believe her attorney she may not have been able to stop herself.

“Sometimes people just can’t help themselves. It’s like someone who gambles and can’t stop gambling. I’ll be reaching out to the Archdiocese personally to find out what they want in this case,” Simmons said.

Collins’ attorney said he isn’t asking for absolution, just a plea deal that’ll get at least some of its money back. His client will be back before a judge next week in Manhattan after the case goes before a grand jury.

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