Ex-pastor posts $10,000 bond after arrest for misusing church funds
A former Gatlinburg pastor is now facing felony theft charges based on allegations he misused money from his church’s day care center, forcing it to close.
Ronald W. Lukat, 65, of 103 Money Maker Circle in Gatlinburg, is charged with theft over $1,000 after a grand jury returned a sealed presentment against him this week.
He was aware of the charges against him, however, and records at the sheriff’s office indicate he turned himself in about 7 p.m. He was released after posting $10,000 bond, and has hired Sevierville attorney Bryan Delius to represent him.
Lukat was the pastor of Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church from early 2011 until last December, when church members said they became aware of irregularities in the account used by their Child Care Center.
They said Lukat volunteered to oversee the center’s finances when the center’s treasurer stepped down, not long after the pastor’s arrival. That left Lukat in possession of a credit card used to purchase supplies for the center, as well as overseeing its fiances.
Their investigation indicated that Lukat owed $3,600 in credit card fees they believed had been used for personal expenses and had never been repaid. Church officials have also said that the center owes $40,000 in unpaid federal taxes additional state unemployment taxes that Lukat never paid.
A statement issued by the church Friday indicates it is still working with authorities on those issues.
“We have provided the Gatlinburg Police Department, the Tennessee Department of Revenue and the Internal Revenue Service with all requested information, and we have cooperated fully with these agencies in their investigations,” Clerk of Session Peggy Noblitt said.
Delius told The Mountain Press he was in the early phase of learning about the evidence against his client, but said Lukat had talked with police during the investigation.
“He’s surrendered and made bond, charged with theft by use of a credit card apparently for unauthorized purchases is what the allegations charged,” Delius said. “The allegations have been brought against him in the form of a sealed presentment. We have met with the detectives of the GPD and cooperated with them.”
At this point, he said, he doesn’t anticipate there will be further charges against Lukat.
Church officials suspended Lukat from his duties when the investigation started, and indicated he resigned within a week of that time. His status within the Presbyterian organization is not clear. Judd Shaw, general presbyter of The Presbytery of East Tennessee, did not return calls to his office Friday.
Members of Gatlinburg Presbyterian said that the financial issues created by Lukat forced them to close the child care center.
Rev. Joe Blevins, a recently retired Presbyterian minister, is serving as pastor of Gatlinburg Presbyterian now.
“The Gatlinburg church has moved on and is looking forward to continuing to serve the needs of the Gatlinburg community as well as to providing a place of worship for the many tourists who come to this beautiful area for vacation,” Noblitt said.