Huffpost Crime

Father Joe LeClair Pleads Guilty To Stealing $130,000 From Church

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A Canadian priest has hell to pay after literally getting caught with his hand in the collection plate.

Father Joseph LeClair pleaded guilty to stealing $130,000 from Ottawa's Blessed Sacrament Church on Monday, the Digital Journal reports.

He stole from the church collection plate, kept money raised through marriage preparation courses, and rounded up expenses and pocketed the difference, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

The paper reports that LeClair was a "pathological gambler" who wrote himself and others checks from the chuch account.

The shocking plea flies in the face of the public's opinion of him. His defense painted a picture of a priest who brought back the church from a death rattle, adding employees, giving to the needy and expanding the volunteer roster. LeClair confessed to a lead investigator that of the $157,000 couples paid for his marriage preparation courses, only $13,170 was ever deposited into the church account.

An audit found that $1.16 million was deposited into LeClair's account between Jan. 2006 and Dec. 2010. Only $769,000 of that was his salary, casino winnings and legitimate stipends, the court found. The rest of the $400,000 couldn't be accounted for.

A forensic psychiatrist who examined him found that he had a severe gambling problem. He suffered from anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse.

After his guilty pleas to theft and fraud (charges of breach of trust and money laundering were withdrawn), Archbishop Terrence Prendergast issued a statement:

"Despite this difficult decision affecting Fr. LeClair's life, I know that he is relieved to have this painful moment behind him. I share his desire, and that of the many people who supported him over the last two years, to move on and to look to the future."

LeClair is expected in court today for the beginning of his sentencing hearings, which will continue for the next few days.

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