Gatlinburg church to close daycare as pastor is accused of steal

Gatlinburg church to close daycare as pastor is accused of stealing funds

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Former pastor Ronald Lukat (Source: Youtube) Former pastor Ronald Lukat (Source: Youtube)

GATLINBURG (WATE) - A Sevier County church is being forced to close its daycare just as police launch an investigation into allegations the church's pastor stole church funds for his own personal use.

Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church spokesman Bill Ball says the daycare, which has been open since 1995, will close on Thursday.

Ball said the church daycare is being forced to close because it owes $40,000 in unpaid federal and state unemployment taxes and is unable to continue operating and also settle the debt.

Former pastor Ronald Lukat joined the church in February 2011. Shortly after his hire, the church treasurer resigned and Lukat offered to take over those responsibilities.

In December 2012, Ball said the church discovered that Lukat has been using the church's business credit card for personal expenses, which he estimated to be roughly $3,600.

Around the same time, he also uncovered the unpaid taxes the daycare center owed.

Church officials confronted Lukat about the charges and taxes and he confessed on both accounts and resigned from his post.

In an interview with police, however, he said the unpaid taxes were not due to his personal use of the credit card, but because the center wasn't making enough to cover payroll expenses. He said he reported the taxes to the government, but had not paid them.

Lukat told police he informed the board of the financial problems, but they were not addressed.

Ball said the board had not been informed of any problems or concerns.

Lukat also told police that though he had used the business credit card for personal reasons, it was less than the $3,600 and said that he had also used his personal funds for daycare needs, which he felt offset some of the credit card charges.

Church spokesman Bill Ball told police the church now owes more than $40,000 in unpaid taxes.

Prior to his resignation, Lukat had been a pastor for 34 years.

The building that housed the daycare center is now being sold.

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