The former executive archdeacon of the Anglican diocese of Brandon was arraigned on fraud charges April 8 after he allegedly used a diocesan business credit card for personal expenses “in excess” of $190,000.
Archdeacon Noah James Bernard Njegovan, 30, was accused of embezzling the diocese during his time as executive archdeacon of the diocese and assistant to his father, Bishop James Njegovan. The fraud allegedly took place between March 12, 2010 to September 12, 2012.
Njegovan, who was charged with fraud over $5000, was released on bail and his next court date has been set for May 9, said Father Shane Bengry, chair of the diocesan communications committee. His license to officiate as priest has been suspended pending the outcome of the case.
Bishop Njegovan has decided not to comment on the case because of his familial connection to the accused, said Bengry in an interview. The bishop has given the Ven. Robin Walker, dean of the diocese, commissarial authority to handle the matter in order to ensure a fair investigation, he added.
“There has been no allegation of wrongdoing on the Bishop’s part. His silence is necessary to ensure that the matter is investigated and resolved in a fair and orderly manner,” added a pastoral statement issued by Walker, which was read in 22 parishes across the diocese last Sunday, April 7.
Walker acknowledged that the case would come as “a shock” and would have “wide-ranging implications” for members of the diocese, but he requested “patience and prayers as we move to a responsible conclusion to this matter.”
The alleged irregularities were discovered last October, and the bishop was informed about them on Nov. 2. The diocesan executive committee met on Nov. 29 to determine a course of action, said the statement. It decided to refer the matter to the diocesan insurer and to the police “to facilitate further investigation and a partial recovery of funds.” A claim under the diocese’s coverage for employee dishonesty was made shortly before Christmas, and on Jan. 16 the dean and the registrar of the diocese reported the matter to the Brandon Police Service. Charges were laid against Noah Njegovan on Feb. 26.
Members of the diocese were first informed of the alleged irregularities in a pastoral statement issued in December. “This was before we knew all the forensic details. We told them that more comprehensive information would be coming in,” said Bengry. “We really wanted to be transparent about the whole process and to find a balance between having a fair investigation and the need our congregations had for information.”
The alleged embezzlement was discovered only after the accused resigned in August 2012 and the completion of the 2011 audit in September, which had been delayed for several months. No irregularities were noted in the 2010 audit. However, when questionable transactions were uncovered in the 2011 audit, the 2010 finances were reviewed and revealed some potentially unapproved spending during that period.
The unauthorized use of the business credit card was also not detected because payments were made from diocesan funds via electronic funds transfer, said the statement. “Because no cheques were written, the charges and payments in question were neither seen nor approved by the Executive Committee.”
In his statement, Walker assured clergy and parishioners of the diocese that “due process has been followed” ever since the situation came to light. He also assured them that “appropriate steps” have been taken to ensure tighter, “more detailed and thorough” oversight of diocesan finances.
Founded in 1913, the diocese of Brandon has an Anglican population of 10,621 spread across an area of 100,000 square miles. It is a member of the Council of the North, one of the financially assisted dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada. The loss of funds has meant that the diocese has had to liquidate some of its assets to allow its ministries to continue, said the Winnipeg Free Press.
Bengry said there are members of the diocese “waiting to see what the court says,” adding that people have also expressed “concern for the bishop and his family.”
He added: “We’re a small diocese. We know each other. People are approaching this with an open heart, open mind and open spirit toward reconciliation and understanding. That’s not to negate any potential wrongdoing…that’s for the court to decide.”