Treasurer, daughter plead guilty to theft charges at Elizabethton Church

Published 2:11 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2024

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By Robert Sorrell

Star Correspondent

A treasurer at First Freewill Baptist Church in Elizabethton and his daughter have pleaded guilty to theft charges.

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On Tuesday, Kenneth Nave, who served as the church’s treasurer, and his daughter, Conner Evans, appeared before Judge Stacy Street in Carter County Criminal Court.

With a plea agreement in place, Nave pleaded guilty to a charge of theft over $60,000 and Evans entered into a plea agreement on a charge of theft over $10,000. As a result of the plea agreements, Nave will serve eight years of probation and Evans will serve three years of probation. A restitution hearing will be held on Sept. 4 at 1 p.m.

A grand jury heard the case on Monday and returned presentments against the two individuals. Nave was originally charged with theft over $250,000, theft over $60,000 and conspiracy. Evans was originally charged with theft over $60,000 and conspiracy.

Through negotiations with their attorney and the district attorney’s office, plea agreements were reached, Street said.

Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks said leaders from First Freewill Baptist Church originally discovered last year that there were irregularities in its bank account. Church leaders first took the information to the Elizabethton Police Department and the case was referred to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, according to Brooks.

Between 2018 and 2023, about $310,000 was taken from the account for personal purchases, Brooks said.

“This is your typical embezzlement,” the prosecutor said.

Nave and Evans admitted to the allegations, which included the use of the church’s bank card and checks.

Brooks said Nave and Evans used church money to make numerous purchases on Amazon, DoorDash and elsewhere. In addition, Brooks said some of the church funds also financed a jewelry business and wedding.

“I am sorry that all of this happened,” Nave told the court.

Nave told the court that he loves the church. He said he takes full responsibility for his actions.

“I wish it didn’t happen,” he added.

Church trustee Michael Peters said First Freewill Baptist is a forgiving church.

“We forgive them,” Peters told the court. “We still love them.”

Street said, “There’s a reason we try cases in the courtroom” and not on “Facebook, the church, the baseball field or Walmart.”

The judge added, “We try to find the truth.”

A state-appointed judge will conduct the restitution hearing in September. Street said his family had given the church money and he did not want a conflict of interest. He said that because the plea agreement had been reached without any input from himself, he agreed to lead Tuesday’s hearing. Nave and Evans agreed to allow Street to hear the case.