Two priests are in court over allegations they stole almost $1million from parishioners.
Thought to be the biggest case of embezzlement affecting the US Catholic church, two priests have been taken to court over claims that they stole almost $1million from their parishioners.
Reverend John Skehan and Reverend Francis Gwinan are accused of using donations made to St Vincent Ferrer Catholic church in West Palm beach, Florida, to fund lavish lifestyles.
According to reports, the pair moved money given to the church in goodwill to overseas bank accounts and used it to pay for indulgences such as gambling trips to Las Vegas, rare coin collections worth $200,000, luxury homes and even mistresses!
The Reverends’ debaucherous ways went undiscovered until a suspicious parishioner – who chose to remain anonymous - contacted police in 2005, prompting an investigation into the church’s financial records. Shortly afterwards they went on the run, fleeing the country and the arm of the law until they returned and were detained in late in 2006.
While the 'devout' pair are officially accused of stealing just under $1million between 2001 and 2006, church auditors believe that a figure nearing $8million over a 20 year period is likely to be more accurate. Unfortunately however, because of restrictions detailed in the Statute of Limitations, the Reverends will only answer to charges for the lesser amount.
Appearing in court yesterday, 81 year old Skehan, originally from County Kilkenny, Ireland, pleaded guilty to the allegations against him. He is due to be sentenced in March and could serve up to 31 years - although it is believed that he hopes to reduce this by presenting 20 character witnesses to plea his case.
Gwinan, 66, also from Ireland, pleaded innocent to the charges and argued that the money had been given out as cash to church employees. He is set to return to trial on 18th February.