Long Beach church employee admits guilt

By Rebecca Powers - bio | email

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - Why would a woman with no criminal past, admit to stealing $44,000 from her church where she worked as its bookkeeper?

Michelle Calliham of Long Beach, who says she's never even gotten a speeding ticket, now faces jail time, fines and heartbreak for her family. It's all because of a terrible diagnosis and medical bills.

"They pile up, and you just shove them in bag because you can't afford it," Calliham told WLOX News.

In 2007, at the age of 34, Michelle Calliham was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the blood.

"I had a full time job, but they didn't offer me medical insurance," Calliham said.

The single mother of three worked as the book keeper at First Baptist Church in Long Beach. She remembers what was going through her mind the first time she transferred money from their account to her own.

Calliham said, choking back emotion, "I was thinking about survival, thinking about my children."

Macey is a happy-go-lucky 8-year-old, and Trace is your typical toddler without a care in the world. But at 16, her daughter Brina is well aware. She says she's tormented at school, and then goes home to run the house and feed her family while her mother vomits from cancer treatments.

"It has been hard; she's had to take a lot of responsibility. She hasn't really been able to be a teenager," Michelle Calliham said.

With a full time job, Caliliham found herself in a "catch-22." She didn't qualify for medicaid like those who don't work, but had no way to pay for her medical bills. Her attorney David Morrison says church officials weren't even aware the money was missing, but facing death and feeling guilt, Calliham actually told them. He says "that" should count for something.

"I'm not saying she should not pay a penalty, but what do you say to someone who's got three kids under the age of 16 who is dying, who has no money and no outside support? What do you say to that person?"

Calliham says she hopes no one else is faced with such a desperate choice. Now she prays that her children and her church can forgive her for the pain she's caused.

"I am by no means condoning what I did, and I wish every day that I could go back and change what I did."

A letter was sent from her church September 9th, giving Calliham two days to pay back the more than $44,000 she admitted taking.

Calliham also says, once word of her arrest spread, she is now losing what housing subsidy she had and her parents have taken out a second mortgage on their home to pay for a bone marrow transplant. Instead, they had to use that money to bail her out of jail and for now, her medical treamtent has been put on hold.

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