Crimetracker: Former pastor being investigated for misuse

Galtinburg Presbyterian Church (Source: Kyle Grainger, WVLT)

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A former Gatlinburg pastor is being investigated for misuse of a church credit card.

Gatlinburg Police Chief said there is an open investigation into actions by the former pastor of Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church, but he couldn't comment any more about that.

The church board of directors contacted the police when they found discrepencies in the church's credit card that was used by the daycare center. The church says Ronald Lukat spent $3600 for his personal use. The church's board of directors also said they thought Lukat was paying federal and state taxes, but have not been billed for more than $40,000 in back taxes.

Judd Shaw, General Presbyter, of the Presbytery of East Tennessee sent Local 8 Now the following statement:

"On January 6, 2013, Rev. Ron Lukat resigned his position as pastor of the Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church. It is our understanding that there is an investigation in process. Because it is an active case, it would be inappropriate to comment on any details at this time.
The Presbytery is seeking to be supportive of the congregation during this time, including assisting the church in their search for a new pastor. We are also reaching out to extend care to Rev. Lukat and his family."

As a result, the church has decided the only way to pay off the debt and keep the church going is to close and sell the child daycare center building.

The only place that Melody Huddleston, the director of the daycare, has ever worked is the Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church Daycare Center. She spent Wednesday packing up the center, while her 15 kids slept.

"I thought we would always be here. It's hard when it's out of your control and you can't do anything about it," said Huddleston. "I've cried, ask my husband. Now I'm angry, and all of our parents have cried and my teachers have cried and it's been really hard."

Thursday will be the last day the center is open. Huddleson and other staff members hope to reopen a daycare center soon for the people of Gatlinburg.

Willam Ball, a member of the church board, said the past few weeks have been painful for the church. He says there was no other choice but to close the daycare.

"The worst part about all this is the 15 children that are displaced now with no place to go," said Ball. "The church we will survive and we will move forward, and still be blessed as we always are. But it's the children and the parents that are struggling to make a living, they're the ones that are suffering now."

Lukat has not been formally charged by the police department. The church is still looking into finances to see if there are more discrepancies.

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