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Merrimack Valley

January 29, 2010

Pastor, wife accused of embezzling from church in Lawrence

Police: $137,000 stolen by unauthorized checks

LAWRENCE — The pastor of a Presbyterian church in the city, his wife, and the church's secretary are charged with embezzling almost $137,000 from the congregation's bank account over the course of five years.

The Rev. Isaias Rivera, pastor of Tabernaculo de Adoracion y Musica (Tabernacle of Praise and Music) and his wife, Vivian, were arrested by Lawrence police yesterday. Church secretary Kizzella Rivera turned herself in to police.

The Presbytery of Northern New England, which owns and runs the church at 96 E. Haverhill St., did not give permission nor had any knowledge that the three had been cashing checks from 2004 to 2009, according to police.

According to the police report, Isaias Rivera allegedly took $102,732.28, his wife cashed three checks in 2005 totaling $24,500, and secretary Kizzella Rivera, (no relation) wrote checks for herself and cashed them for the total sum of $9,500.

According to the police report, The Rev. Eric Markman, moderator for the Presbytery, contacted Sovereign Bank after talking to Isaias Rivera.

Bank officials told Markman "there were a lot of checks written to Isaias Rivera on the Presbytery's account from 2004 until 2009," according to the police report.

The Presbytery hired Hession and Pare, a public accounting firm in Manchester, N.H., to look at the account.

After researching the church's bank transactions, John Hession found "Isaias was either writing checks to himself or would have his secretary (Kizzella Rivera) write the checks out to him. He would then later cash the checks and take the money," the police report said.

Markman and Darnell Burks, chairman of the Lawrence Church Committee for the Presbytery, were recently alerted to a potential problem by Ricky Rivera, Kizzella Rivera's husband.

"He got fresh with my wife a couple of times and now he is trying to bring her into this," said Ricky Rivera, who ran youth programs at the church.

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