TROY, Mich. (WWJ/AP) – A Detroit-area Catholic priest and his parish administrator were charged Wednesday with fraud and conspiracy in a scheme to steal nearly $700,000 from their church.
The Rev. Edward Belczak and Janice Verschuren conspired over an eight-year period at St. Thomas More in Troy, according to an indictment. Cash even turned up missing from special collections on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton doesn’t think the allegations will be too difficult for prosecutors to prove.
“This is a money crime in large part, and we know the feds have done pretty well in money crimes. Money can be traced,” said Langton. “You go back to the records of the church; you look at them. You also have witnesses; and, for example, if somebody left the church $350,000 and it somehow managed to get into Father. Belczak’s pocket or into a condominium with his name on it … that’s not good for the priest.”
Belczak, 69, helped himself to $110,000 from a church account to help pay for a Wellington, Fla., condominium that was sold to him for $500,000 by Verschuren and her former husband, the indictment states.
“He’s presumed innocent, and I bet he’ll vigorously fight it, sure,” defense attorney Jerome Sabbota said. “The truth will come out one way or another.”
A message seeking comment was left with Verschuren’s attorney, Patricia Maceroni.
Belczak opened a bank account in 2006 without the Detroit Archdiocese’s knowledge with a $350,000 check from a deceased parishioner who donated a portion of her estate, the indictment says. The money had been given to St. Thomas More “for the needs of the church.”
Belczak was removed from the church last year after an audit raised questions about parish finances. The Archdiocese said he paid a ghost employee $240,000.
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