Thursday, April 4, 2013

Feds Take Over $429K Embezzlement Case In Michigan - Priest Suspected

FBI now leads Troy priest embezzlement case
April 3, 2013  Niraj Warikoo

The FBI has taken over a criminal investigation into whether a popular Catholic priest in Troy embezzled more than $400,000 from his church.

Troy police had been leading the investigation into the Rev. Edward Belczak, 67, who was the pastor at St. Thomas More Parish in Troy for almost 30 years before the Archdiocese of Detroit removed him in January amid questions of financial improprieties.

But a few weeks ago, “the FBI came in and took over,” Troy Police Sgt. Andy Breidenich said Wednesday. Troy police still will handle the health care fraud part of the investigation, Breidenich said.

Belczak is accused of misappropriation of $429,000, using that money to pad his salary, according to the archdiocese.

An audit from the archdiocese alleged that Belczak also may have paid a ghost employee $240,000 over six years, accepted $25,000 that should have been deposited into parish accounts and provided improper medical and dental coverage to a parish member and employee, among other accusations.

The Free Press reported in January that Belczak bought a $500,000 luxury condo in Florida in 2005 from his longtime church manager Janice Verschuren, who also was removed from her position after the investigation became public. It is unclear how Belczak paid for the home. In metro Detroit, Catholic priests’ annual salaries are about $27,500 to the mid-$30,000 range, depending on years of service.

The FBI’s involvement probably “indicates there’s a violation of federal law,” which could include crimes across state lines, said Kathleen McChesney, a management consultant who was previously the third highest ranking FBI agent in the U.S. and was director of child and youth protection at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Most investigations involving priests are dealt with by local law enforcement, McChesney said. But in recent years, the FBI has been investigating more cases.

“In the last decade or so, you’ve seen more and more cases the FBI has gotten involved in with Catholic clergy, in a variety of criminal areas,” she said. Those cases range from sexual abuse to child porn to drug use, she said.

Belczak could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The archdiocese is “still cooperating with civil authorities” in the investigation, spokesman Joe Kohn said.

One of the accusations is that that Belczak failed to deposit or record money given by parishioners to collection plates on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day services, the archdiocese said. Established in 1963, St. Thomas More is one of the biggest churches in Oakland County, with about 2,500 families.

From Detroit Free Press

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