A woman who stole $1.6 million from her church to fund her gambling habit has been jailed.

Elizabeth Papu, an employee of the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church, will spend more than two years behind bars after stealing the money during her time as the church's northern division finance administrator.

The 52-year-old was in Manukau District Court on Thursday, where she earlier admitted taking money from the church and manipulating financial records to hide her actions.

Serious Fraud Office director Julie Read said Papu had full responsibility for the church's bank accounts.


"That authority to record transactions and reconcile bank statements allowed her to manipulate the church's financial records and disguise her theft," she said.

"The absence of any segregation of duties or oversight in respect of Ms Papu's role created the opportunity for her to misappropriate the church's funds."

Papu was charged in February with two counts of theft by person in a special relationship, and pleaded guilty to all charges in May.

She was sentenced to two years' and nine months' jail.