Former director charged with stealing $1.6 million from Pennsylvania clergy death benefit fund

By ENS staff
Posted Jan 2, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] The former administrator of a nonprofit insurance corporation that has served the families of Episcopal clergy in Pennsylvania for centuries was charged in federal court with wire fraud for allegedly stealing more than $1.6 million intended for deceased clergy members’ widows and children.

The Clergy Assurance Fund’s former executive director is seen in an image included in the fund’s 2021 annual report.

John A. Miller, 74, had served as executive director and treasurer of the Clergy Assurance Fund until March 2022, after other fund administrators became suspicious of improper credit card charges.

When confronted about the improper charges, Miller said he’d mistakenly thought the charges were allowed by fund policy, and he chose to retire rather than face termination, according to the fund’s internal summary of the case. An annual financial audit revealed that Miller also had written checks to himself that were “duplicates of payments of death benefits to beneficiaries,” according to the summary.

The Clergy Assurance Fund referred the allegations to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Last month, the United States Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia announced in a news release that Miller had been arrested and indicted on federal charges.

“From January 2015 through May 2022, the defendant devised a scheme to divert money from the fund to himself,” the news release said. “The indictment alleges that Miller then used this money to fund personal purchases for himself, including international cruises, vacations to the Caribbean, and a luxury condominium.”

If convicted, Miller faces a potential prison sentence of up to 60 years.

The Clergy Assurance Fund traces its history at least as far back as 1769, when it was founded to offer financial support for the widows and orphans of priests in the colonies of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. The joint fund was divided in 1806, establishing separate funds for the dioceses in each of the three states.

The Pennsylvania fund, long known as The Widows Corporation, was renamed the Clergy Assurance Fund in 2019, and it now serves beneficiaries in the dioceses of Pennsylvania, Bethlehem, Central Pennsylvania, Northwestern Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh. Its board is made up of the five diocesan bishops and 35 elected volunteer members.

Miller had served as executive director and treasurer since 2014. At that time, the fund had more than $71 million in assets, including nearly $43 million reserved for paying future death benefits. By the 2021 annual report, the last before his resignation, assets had grown to nearly $82 million.