A Georgetown man was sentenced in federal court Monday for wire fraud after he stole half a million dollars from a local church over the course of four years while acting as their treasurer.

Ralph Tackett, 66, stole $512,042 from the church and used the money for his own personal benefit, according to court records. He was sentenced by Judge Danny Reeves to nearly three years in prison and ordered to pay $532,807 in restitution. He will have to self-report to a Bureau of Prisons facility in March.

Tackett previously accepted a plea agreement in September 2022.

As the treasurer for the church, Tackett was in charge of the church’s financial affairs including approving and processing payments, managing mortgage payments, depositing cash offerings and overseeing the church’s bank accounts, according to court records.

The church was not named in court records or court testimony.

Tackett routinely issued church checks payable to his spouse without her knowledge and cashed and deposited them into his own personal and business accounts, according to court records. Tackett transmitted some of the money through bank transfers with the church’s WesBanco checking account to his personal American Express credit card, according to court records.

Tackett also took money directly out of the offering plate, according to testimony and court documents.

In addition, he transferred around $187,356 to pay his own personal credit card debts in increments of $1,000 or less.

“He treated the donations and funds of the church as if he were entitled to them — he managed the church’s operating account as if it were his own secret bank account,”prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “He concealed his threats by generating over-simplified monthly reports that omitted the numerous unauthorized transfers of funds he made to pay his own personal debts.”

Tackett routinely transferred funds to an out-of-state individual “who made financial demands to him,” in small amounts that totaled $325,000, according to court records. The transactions spanned from December 2015 to July 2019.

Tackett’s defense attorney, Jarrod Beck, said Tackett was being blackmailed and cyberstalked. Court documents alleged the blackmailer threatened to reveal Tackett’s “sexual exploits.”

“The blackmail affected him, and he was fearful the threats made against him would destroy him,” Beck said. “He didn’t care about his reputation, but the reputation of the lives of the people around him.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tashena Fannin confirmed the blackmail, but reported to the court there was no evidence to suggest that the blackmail coincided when the crimes first started. She said that according to Tackett, the blackmail did not begin until 2017.

“The defendant started on this criminal path before exposure of his personal sexual life was threatened, the frequency of his actions and omissions were weekly and often daily, and he carried on with his scheme for approximately 43 months,” the prosecutor’s sentencing memorandum said.

The church community never suspected Tackett was taking money and believed their financial problems were from “natural growing pains,” having just moved into an updated and more expensive facility, according to court records. His authority as treasurer went unchecked.

Once the FBI confronted Tackett, he was fully cooperative with their investigation and thankful it was no longer a burden to carry, according to court testimony made Monday.

“He accepted full responsibility for his actions,” Fannin said in court.

A plea deal was arranged due to Tackett’s compliance, and prosecutors and the defense team agreed he was not a threat to the public, and would not likely re-offend due to his age and lack of criminal history.

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