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Tamaqua woman sues church, council leader over book

Published October 19. 2012 05:02PM

A Tamaqua woman filed a civil suit against her church and president of the church council seeking monetary damages over alleged breach of contract of a book she wrote depicting the history of the church.

The suit was started by Francis L. Stahl, 12 Miller Lane, Tamaqua R.D., against Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, 101 N. Greenwood St., Tamaqua, and George Taylor, 200 N. Lehigh St., Tamaqua.

In her suit Stahl states she was a member of the congregation of the church and Taylor was president of the church council. In the spring of 2011 she conducted a research project to uncover the full history of the church for use in church tours. From March until December 2011, she conducted more than 1,000 hours of research and compiled hundreds of historical documents about the church.

She claims on or about November of 2011 she approached Taylor about the possibility of writing a book about the history of the church due to the excess of historical research uncovered that would not be able to be used in church tours. She claims Taylor entered into an oral agreement to allow her to write the book at her own expense to help pay for exterior renovations at the church and Taylor would allow her to sell and market the book within the church before and after weekly prayer services.

Completes book

In December she announced the oral agreement between herself and Taylor to the congregation and in April 2012 finished the book entitled "Tamaqua's Mighty Fortress Zion Church." At the same time she and Taylor had a conversation and she informed him she planned to order the printing of 100 to 200 copies of the book from the publisher at a discounted "author rate" from her own personal finances to sell at the church.

The discounted rate was $4.64 compared to $14.64 printing rate and she claimed this would allow the church more profit. Also, she alleges that Taylor suggested that instead of using her own personal finances to purchase the first shipment of books she should place the order for the printings on the church credit card but claims the church credit card had a specific limit and only 90 books could be ordered at a cost of $481.66. She further claims Taylor authorized the purchase of the 90 books on the credit card.

The shipment of books arrived at her home on April 26, and on the same day she began selling the books within the church before and after prayer services and marketing the book to historical societies, chamber of commerce, and libraries within the greater Tamaqua community.

In order to keep full accounting of all the books being sold, Stahl claims when a book was sold she recorded the transaction in her private accounting software on her home computer. If the buyer provided a check written to Zion Evangelical she delivered the check to the parish administrator, Melody Casler, at the church office. If the buyer provided either cash or a check written to her she deposited the money in her own personal bank account then wrote a check to the church and delivered it to Casler. She claims by May 1, she delivered checks totaling $725 to the church office.

Issue over policy

The suit states the church's financial secretary, Ann Marie Hadesty, purchased a book from her and paid by check which she deposited in her own bank account but claims later that evening Mrs. Hadesty called her inquiring why the check had not been delivered to the church office. In the suit Stahl states she explained her booking method and told Hadesty the check would be delivered once her accountings were made but that Hadesty insisted that fund raising monies received by the church during church business hours were not to leave the premises as per church policy.

The suit claims Mrs. Hadesty threatened to report her to the finance committee. In the suit Stahl claims she reminded Hadesty that the book project was not an official church fundraiser but rather a random act of benevolence by a congregation member

In the suit Stahl states she sent an e-mail to the chairman of the finance committee, Robert Jones, about her conversation with Mrs. Hadesty and reminded him of the agreement with Taylor. In response she claims she received the following e-mail from Jones.

"Hi Fran, We called off 'scarface" and Luciano the LME (Lutheran Mafia Enforcer) to collect the checks from you. I read your e-mail several times to see your point, I am in your corner here. I think the way you are handling this makes the best sense. As you point out even though this is a church fundraiser, the books are being sold thru various other avenues, not just the church. I think we need to give you some leeway, here. Should be interesting meeting Tuesday night."

The suit states the finance committee met May 8, and discussed the procedure for depositing the monies from the book sale but claims her husband, Timothy D. Stahl, a member of the finance committee, was not invited to explain her accounting procedure or reiterate her agreements with Taylor. On May 11, she delivered another batch of checks totaling $300 to the church office

Stops selling

In the suit Stahl states on May 11, by e-mail, she notified Taylor she would no longer be selling any of the books within the church in order to avoid further issues with Mrs. Hadesty or the finance committee. That evening she alleges Mrs. Hadesty left a message on her answering machine ordering her to turn over all remaining monies and books in her possession to the church but that Taylor on May 12, informed her she need not turn over any remaining monies or books and that he was scheduling a special meeting of the finance committee to quell any issues that Mrs. Hadesty or the finance committee may have had concerning her accounting procedure.

The suit states on May 14, Mrs. Hadesty sent her an e-mail chastising her for not following church policy and charged she was attempting to skirt church policy solely because of '"who she is", also questioning Taylor for calling a special meeting and claimed she need to be accountable for her benevolent donation to the church.

Stahl claims in her suit during the week of May 14 through 26, she began receiving several harassing and obscene telephone calls from unidentified individuals who stated to her "stop stealing church money," asking her "what are you trying to hide" and threatened physical violence against her family.

Then on May 22, Taylor and the church pastor, Jeffrey Kistler, sent her a document entitled "Moving Forward with Zion History Boos" and referred to a "compromise" that was scheduled to be submitted to the finance committee for their approval to end any and all remaining issues concerning Mrs. Hadesty. She states the same day she delivered another batch of checks totaling $400 to the church office.

The suit claims her husband resigned from the finance committee on May 24, and that the finance committee, on May 26, rejected the compromise and again demanded she return all remaining monies collected for the sale of the book and the remaining unsold books on June 2 Kistler called her and requested she deliver the remaining unsold books to the church office.

The suit states on June 5, members of the finance committee alleged that she "demanded checks" from the church office and they made the comment to her son, Timothy M. Stahl, who is also a church council member, that all parishioners are replaceable including his mother. On June 6, Frances Stahl claims she delivered another batch of checks totaling $200 to the church office.

The suit states at a special meeting held on June 10, and attended by members of the church council, finance committee, Kistler and unaffiliated members of the congregation, that Kistler "privately admonished" Stahl, her husband, and son by publicly reading a document entitled, "Private Admonishment by Pastor Kistler to Fran Stahl, Tim Stahl and Tim M. Stahl." The suit claims this document was handed out to 20 people in attendance and recorded in the official minutes of the meeting and allegedly the official minutes of this meeting were prepared by Taylor, published by Mrs. Hadesty, and made available to the full congregation and that on June 15.

Mrs. Stahl had her photograph taken by a reporter for the TIMES NEWS, which planned to place her photograph with a caption promoting her book signing schedule for June 17, at the Summerfest event in Tamaqua, but it didn't appear in the paper.

The suit claims at a church council meeting on June 19, Taylor announced he contacted the TIMES NEWS and asked it not publish the photograph or run any story regarding her book.

Suffers mental anguish

In the suit Stahl claims because of the public admonishment, harassment by telephone calls, threats of physical violence to her family, she has suffered frequent severe headaches, nausea, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, insomnia, depression, anxiety and mental anguish and as a direct result and proximate cause by actions of Taylor, Mrs. Hadesty and the church. She has ceased attending Sunday worships and since she left the church she has not sold an additional copy of her book

Stahl seeks damages in excess of $40,000 from the church and excess of $5,000 from Taylor.

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