A Franklin man is accused of stealing nearly $100,000 worth of contributions to local churches - police think he stole from church mailboxes.
Kenneth Stopkotte is now the subject of an investigation by both federal and local officials after more than 170 checks were stolen from 15 churches and a Bellevue Hindu temple.
Those checks were worth some $98,000, according to documents on file in federal court.
Now, we've learned more about which congregations were targeted and how the thefts went on for so long.
Investigators believe Stopkotte signed his names to endorse the checks, then deposited them to his own bank account.
Police believe the checks were stolen from the unlocked mailboxes at local congregations between August and November 2012.
At least two worshippers at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin first discovered they were victims when they received their annual statements from the church. Their checks had been cashed but didn't show up on their church statements.
One of the victims, who didn't want to be identified, told Channel 4 News he was surprised, saying "you never think it will happen to you."
At least five churches in Bellevue were victims, according to federal documents, as well as others in Murfreesboro and Williamson County.
"To have that money stolen by someone is despicable," said Franklin Police Sgt. Charles Warner.
Police have traced Stopkotte's alleged crimes going back more than two years, and investigators say he even cashed a $1,000 check that had been accidentally delivered to his house instead of his neighbor's.
Now, police would like to know where Stopkotte is. He was arrested in February in connection with the First Presbyterian Church theft, but he has since disappeared.
"As far as we can tell, he skipped town," Warner said.
The U.S. Secret Service is investigating the case on the federal level and has moved to seize at least some of the money from the suspect's account at SunTrust Bank. Federal documents say they have his picture on six ATM surveillance photographs.
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