March 27, 2009 / 4:04 AM / 10 years ago

Priests get jail for stealing from church

MIAMI (Reuters) - Two disgraced Roman Catholic priests have been sentenced to prison in a case involving the misappropriation of more than $8 million from their church, a theft one judge called “greed unmasked.”

Priests attend mass in a file photo. REUTERS/File

John Skehan and Francis Guinan were accused in 2006 of skimming money from collection plates and bequests at their church in Delray Beach, Florida, and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on real estate, travel, rare coins and girlfriends.

Skehan, 81, was sentenced Tuesday to 14 months in prison and seven years probation after pleading guilty in January to a charge of grand theft of over $100,000.

Guinan, 66, was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison after taking the case to trial and being found guilty of a lesser charge of theft under $100,000.

Judge Jeffrey Colbath imposed the prison term on Skehan despite requests from prosecutors, defense lawyers and the Diocese of Palm Beach for probation only, the Palm Beach Post reported.

“The court finds the defendant is not merely sorry because he got caught, but is truly shameful, embarrassed and remorseful,” the newspaper quoted Colbath as saying.

“The crime of the defendant was pure greed unmasked. There was not a shred of moral necessity to excuse the defendant’s crime,” he added.

Judge Krista Marx said Guinan must be punished for “unmitigated greed and unmitigated gall,” Fort Lauderdale’s Sun Sentinel newspaper reported.

“No matter how many good works you have performed in your many years as a priest, your legacy will always be one of thievery and deceit,” she said.

When the priests were charged in September 2006, police said they had channeled money from collection plates into secret slush funds, using some of it for church projects and part for vacations, property and gambling trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas.

Investigators said Skehan, a priest for more than 50 years, invested heavily in rare coins, owned a cottage and a pub in Ireland, a $455,000 penthouse condominium in Singer Island, Florida, and another apartment in Delray Beach.

Forensic accountants hired by the diocese found that $8.7 million had been misappropriated from the St. Vincent Ferrer Church during the tenures of Skehan and his successor, Guinan.

Reporting by Jim Loney; Editing by Eric Beech

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