Sunday, July 18, 2010

Virginia priest elevates US conviction in embezzlement case

On grounds of double jeopardy, a retired Filipino priest has appealed his embezzlement case involving over $1 million dollars before the Virginia Supreme Court, after the Court of Appeals upheld his sentence of 18 years in prison for state and federal offenses.Catholic priest Rodney Lee Rodis earlier appealed his conviction of 13 years in prison following state prosecution for embezzling church funds, saying the double jeopardy rule precludes two court hearings for the same violations.Rodis, 54, of Cagayan de Oro City, was sentenced on February 2008 for mail fraud and one count of money laundering to 5 years in federal prison, and was ordered to pay full restitution to the Catholic Diocese of Virginia in the amount of $591,484.08.
In January last year, he was likewise sentenced to 13 more years in prison for 10 counts of embezzlement as a state offense, and was further ordered to pay $432,000 as restitution to his victims.Rodis’ lawyer, John Maus, appealed the second conviction arguing that the Fifth Amendment on double jeopardy prohibits someone from being prosecuted in state courts when he was already prosecuted in a federal court.The appellate court, however, ruled in May this year that the double jeopardy rule refers to the cases themselves, and not to the acts.“Although the federal charges required a showing that Rodis illegally obtained the money, the evidence necessary to prove the federal offenses was different from that required to prove the state offenses. Therefore, the acts involved in embezzling the funds were not the same as the acts of laundering the money and engaging in mail fraud," Court of Appeals Judge Jean Harrison Clements wrote.The court said while the same evidence was used in the two cases, the separate prosecutions did not produce a conviction for the same offenses.Maus has thus appealed the appellate court’s decision before the Supreme Court. During the state trial, Rodis pleaded guilty to stealing donation money to the two churches he previously served, the St. Jude Church in Mineral and the Immaculate Concepcion Church in Bumpass, both in Virginia.
The retired priest reasoned that he used the money to help his family and others in his native Philippines.Court documents showed, however, that the embezzled funds were used by family members in the Philippines to purchase real property, including beach-front property and grave sites.Court records also showed that Rodis likewise has a wife and two children residing in Fredericksburg, Virginia.Rodis was ordained a priest of the Order of St. Camillus in 1986 and came to the Diocese of Richmond in 1991. His first assignment was as parochial vicar at St. Mark parish in Virginia Beach where he served for a year. He was then named chaplain at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News and served there also for a year.
He retired from priestly ministry when an October 2005 stroke had impaired his memory as he claimed.
He left Virginia on June 14, 2006 to return to the Philippines, and later returned to the United States to seek treatment for prostate cancer.He was living in the Fredericksburg area when he was arrested on Jan. 9, 2007 and detained at the Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange County

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