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Gatlinburg pastor accused of stealing from church

12:32 AM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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An East Tennessee pastor has been accused by his congregation of stealing funds from his church.

William Ball, a church member at the Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church, filed a complaint with the Gatlinburg Police Department in late December that accused former pastor Ronald Lukat of charging $3,600 to the church's credit card for personal use. Ball said that Lukat, who was also the treasurer of the church's daycare, also did not pay more than $40,000 to the federal government and the state.

"We haven't determined yet how deep the rabbit hole's going to go," he said.

The Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church decided three weeks ago to close down its child care facility Thursday because of the alleged incident. Ball said the property will be sold so the church can pay off its taxes.

The decision means three people will be laid off and 15 kids will have to find daycare elsewhere.

"Some of the older ones [kids] understand that we're closing, they younger ones, no, not really," said the center's director Melody Huddleston.

Huddleston said she will try to open a new daycare center in the old one's place by the spring.

10News contacted Lukat several times for comment at his residence, but he did not respond. However, in a police report, Lukat told detectives he used the church's credit card to offset some personal transactions he had made on the daycare center's behalf.

He also confessed to not paying taxes on daycare center employee wages, however Lukat said he had previously raised concerns to the church's board that the daycare was not making enough money to pay salaries, expenses or taxes in the first place.

Lukat stepped down from his position as pastor in December.  He had joined the church January 2011.

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