Orange County

Federal jury charges ex-Newman Center finance director with fraud

A former administrator was indicted by a federal grand jury this week on charges of embezzling more than $134,000 from UNC’s Newman Catholic Student Center Parish.

Brian Lee Cansler, 26, of 2701 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill, was charged Monday with eight federal felonies, including four counts of fraudulent use of a credit card, two counts of bank fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft, according to court documents. He was arrested Wednesday and held in the Durham County jail while awaiting a bond hearing.

U.S. District Court Judge Joe L. Webster set a $20,000 unsecured bond for Cansler, who was released Thursday pending an arraignment hearing Wednesday in Winston-Salem.

He is already scheduled to appear in Orange County Superior Court on April 28 on one felony count each of embezzlement, felony financial card fraud and felony obtaining property by false pretenses.

Cansler, a 2013 UNC graduate, worked for about seven months as a Newman Center consultant before being hired in September 2014 as the parish and campus director of finance and administration. The position gave him full control over parish finances, including bank accounts, credit cards and the payroll system, a court document states.

Cansler is accused making $126,272.92 in personal charges to MasterCard and PNC Bank Visa credit cards issued to him for official parish expenses, the document states. He also is accused of writing two checks worth $8,000 to himself from the parish’s PNC bank account for contract “design services” and cashing the checks for personal use. Prosecutors allege Cansler forged the signature of a Catholic priest then assigned to the parish on both checks, the document states.

Newman Center Pastor Justin Ross issued a joint statement Thursday from the center and the Diocese of Raleigh in response to Cansler’s indictment. The missing money was discovered between two regular audits and reported to Chapel Hill police, Ross said in the statement. The crimes are alleged to have occurred between March 2015 and July 2016.

No Newman Center ministry or outreach was affected, Ross said. The parish was able to recover the money through a diocesan insurance program, he added.

“While Mr. Cansler will have to face the consequences of his choices, the ultimate hope is that he will seek the Lord’s will in his life and reform his behavior,” Ross said. “We are called to accountability for what we say and do, but the Gospel reminds us that our mistakes can, in the end, humbly lead us closer to our Lord. Please pray that Mr. Cansler chooses to allow his present circumstances to be a turning point in his life.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb