FLORISSANT, Mo. (Christian Examiner) – Ralph "Drew" Sawyer, 30, confessed to stealing almost $22,000 from the savings account of the Baptist church where he was formerly a pastor. Why? To keep secret his affair with his girlfriend.
The married man admitted to being blackmailed by his 20-year-old mistress, whom he met online this March.
Sawyer's charges are explicit: "Defendant admitted he continued to pay the woman so that she would keep quiet once she discovered that he was a married pastor," court documents say, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Sawyer had a church ATM card with which he made 35 withdrawals from the Lindsay Lane Missionary Baptist Church's savings account at a Bank of America and at an ATM in the lobby of a hotel in downtown St. Louis, Fox2Now reported. He stole $21,727 from his own congregation.
A neighbor who wanted to remain anonymous commented, "Oh gee, I'm not going to judge anybody, that's for darn sure. But I am shocked that the man—he's just so kind."
The crime was discovered when the church treasurer noticed the funds were gone, according to CBS. The pastor was suspended, then he resigned and confessed to the police.
Sawyer is being charged with felony stealing. His mistress has not been charged.
"When you steal from the church that's serious, very serious," Sawyer's neighbor said.
Florissant Police Detective Andy Haarmann said Sawyer turned himself in and made a confession, but Haarmann was noncommittal as to whether blackmail was the cause of the theft.
"He said he initiated a relationship with a young lady," Haarmann said. "As a result of that relationship he withdrew the funds to help continue the relationship."
In a response to a question about whether Sawyer was being blackmailed, Haarmann said, "It's unclear how their relationship progressed. He made some statements to indicate [blackmail] and he made others to refute that."
The Lindsay Lane church delivered a media statement asking for privacy. "The members of Lindsay Lane Baptist Church are saddened by the actions taken by our former pastor," the church said. "We believe this situation is between Ralph Sawyer, God, and the Judicial Process. We respectfully request for privacy as our church tries to heal during this very difficult time."
Haarmann described Sawyer as devastated and embarrassed for shaming his family. "He's just very remorseful," said the detective.
The church's Facebook page posted a query for members to help Sawyer's wife Bekah with her move in late September.
Neighbors reported seeing a man's clothes on the family's front lawn and Sawyer's wife and children moving out.