Catholic priest alleged to have five-fingered more than £3-m
After Michigan priest Jonathan Wehrle, above, was accused last year of embezzling more than $5-m (£3.56-m) to fund a lavish lifestyle, his parishioners were told to by a bishop to reflect on all the good things he had done.
Bishop Earl Boyea begged the faithful not to let the case destroy what they loved about their pastor.
Don’t forget all the good things Father did for you. He baptized your babies, buried your dead and witnessed your marriages.
The bishop said his message was one of:
Hate the sin but love the sinner.
Now its reported that Wehrle has been hit by a lawsuit filed by Princeton Excess and Surplus Lines Insurance Corporation, insurers of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing. He is scheduled to stand trial this month, but an assistant prosecutor said the trial likely won’t take place until the summer.
Werle faces six counts of embezzling $100,000 (£71,000) or more from St Martha Church in Okemos, which is just east of Lansing and about 70 miles west of Detroit. Prosecutors allege that he spent the money on himself, including building and maintain a ten-acre estate.
He spent about $100,000 on an indoor swimming pool and stained glass windows for his six-bedroom, 12-bathroom home, and lashed out more than $134,000 (£95,000) on landscaping at his estate in Williamston and other properties, according to the insurers.
It’s said “God helps those those who help themselves.” One wonders whether this defence will work in Werle upcoming trial.
By comparison, Teslim Johnson’s dishonesty is small beer. Johnson, 39, from Dunstable, Bedfordshire, used his position as a preacher and trustee at Agape Church in Luton, Bedfordshire, to steal £155,840 in Gift Aid funds – and has been jailed for four years.
As a registered charity, the church could claim Gift Aid on donations. But in 2016 HM Revenue & Customs officers contacted donors listed on the charity’s records after they became suspicious of a series of claims.
They found that most of the donations had not been made and many alleged donors had never heard of the church.
Johnson, who was the only person named on the church’s bank accounts, was able to divert money from these fraudulent claims into his personal bank account.
Gift Aid envelopes were found during a search of Johnson’s property, but donor names and amounts did not match Gift Aid records submitted to HMRC.
He received repayments of £103,154 and attempted to claim a further £52,686, bringing the total value of the fraud to £155,840.
Mark Cox, assistant director of fraud investigation service at HMRC, said:
Johnson thought his position in society would put him above scrutiny, but if you break the law HMRC will investigate.This is no t a victimless crime. It is stealing from honest UK taxpayers’ money needed to fund vital public services in the UK.
Johnson was found guilty of fraud by abuse of position and money laundering at Luton Crown Court last week.
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said:
We are appalled by this abuse of position, which undermines public trust and confidence in charity. The commission has been in regular contact with HMRC during its investigation and subsequent prosecution of Mr Johnson. The charity has been removed from the register and Mr Johnson is now disqualified from serving as a charity trustee.
The spokeswoman added that the charity applied for dissolution in October last year and:
We removed it from the register as it was no longer operating.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn (Johnson report)