WEST CHESTER >> A New Garden man who served as the bookkeeper of a Kennett Square church for more than 25 years was sentenced to prison Tuesday for stealing almost $60,000 from its bank accounts after he got into financial problems stemming from bad financial decisions.

Common Pleas President Judge Jacqueline Carroll Cody sentenced Raymond E. Nason to a term in Chester County Prison of three to 23 months followed by two years’ probation. She also ordered him to repay a total of $58,632 to the Presbyterian Church of Kennett Square. Officials there had reported the stolen funds in February 2014.

“I am ashamed and embarrassed by my actions at the church,” Nason wrote in a two-page letter to Cody, submitted by his attorney, Stephen J. Kelly of Kennett Square. “I feel that I let them and my family down by my actions. My intent all along was to borrow the money with the intent to pay back.”

In his letter, Nason pleaded with Cody to keep him from prison, saying that he wanted to be able to continue working so that he could pay back the church at a rate of $1,000 a month. He also denied the allegation that he had a gambling problem, saying that he only started frequenting local casinos in an attempt to win back the money he had stolen from the church.

“I have prayed hard for forgiveness of my actions,” he wrote.

Kelly, in his presentation to the judge, had argued for a term of probation that would allow Nason to keep working and pay restitution in the case. He noted that Nason had no prior criminal history of any kind, and had been relatively unsophisticated in the thefts from the church, writing checks to himself as part of his salary for the bookkeeping work he did at the Presbyterian Church for 26 years.

“He did not create show accounts or use John Doe devices,” Kelly wrote. “Indeed, Mr. Nason was aware that in the event of an audit, his thefts would be easily discovered. He believed, wrongly, that he would return the money to the amount one day.”

Church Elder David Brown, who is chairman of the church’s finance committee, also asked Cody not to incarcerate Nason and instead allow him to remain free to work. The church, it appeared from letters submitted by Kelly, had been divided internally on whether to report the thefts and seek punishment against Nason.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Davis, who prosecuted the case, did not press Cody for a significant jail term, suggesting only that the case deserved some period of imprisonment, plus an order to repay the funds.

Nason, 67, of Landenberg, was charged by Kennett Square police in June with theft charges. According to an affidavit filed in the case by Detective A. Trevisan Jr., church officials reported the thefts to him after Nason had been confronted with the accusations the month before and had admitted his crimes to Pastor Andrew Smith.

Nason had worked at the church as financial administrator for more than two decades, according to Kelly, and had never taken a dime improperly until 2009, when he and his wife began experiencing financial problems. They declared bankruptcy at some point, and also lost their home in a mortgage foreclosure.

Nason was paid an annual salary and benefits of $23,000, but in 2009 began giving himself “advances” on his salary, writing checks above what he was due to cover his losses at home. According to a church investigation of the finances, between 2009 and 2013 Nason took between $8,313 and $17,763 over and above what he was permitted to pay himself.

He did so by writing checks to himself or by using the church’s ATM card to make cash withdrawals.

He admitted to the thefts in an April interview with Trevisan.

Cody, imposing her sentence, allowed Nason to remain free until April 1 before reporting to county prison.

To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.

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