Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Friends saddened at news of accusations Troy priest mishandled more than $400,000 in Michigan


Friends of a Troy priest — removed from his parish as police investigate accusations he mishandled at least $429,000 in church money — are expressing shock at the news.

The Archdiocese of Detroit reported Rev. Edward Belczak was asked Tuesday to temporarily step aside from his duties at St. Thomas More Parish on North Adams Road in Troy during the probes. The 67-year-old remains a priest but will leave parish housing.

A long-time friend of Belczak’s, who asked not to be named, said she was saddened to hear the news. Office staff said they were shocked.

“I like Father Belczak. I think he’s a great priest. It’s too bad if he did that,” said 16-year-old Will Garbinski, who is a parish member and attended catechism at St. Thomas More. The Troy teenager also received his confirmation rites there. “The whole school knows about it and a lot of people were talking about it today,” said Garbinski, a junior at Troy High School.

A reader online, Jannie5050 wrote, “I pray this is a huge misunderstanding. Father Belczak is a gifted speaker and priest, but in the end, we are all human beings and as we know, humans are known to make bad choices.”

The archdiocese reported an audit found that Belczak paid a “ghost employee” $240,000. It says the priest also took $92,000 in compensation above what he’s supposed to get under church policies.

Priests generally earn a minimal salary, said Joe Kohn, archdiocese spokesman, and are provided with housing at a rectory and transportation.

Kohn added, “We are not using the word embezzlement.”  

Belczak cannot function as the parish’s pastor until an administrative review process is completed, according to a statement from the archdiocese.

While he will not remain in residence at St. Thomas More Parish, Father Belczak’s public ministry as a priest is not impacted at this time.

The alleged misappropriation and mismanagement include:

• Taking excess compensation beyond archdiocesan policies, estimating a loss of $92,000 to the parish over the past six years.

• Accepting and directing funds to himself that should have been posted to parish accounts, estimating a loss to the parish of $16,000 over the past six years.

• Compensating, with benefits, an individual best described as a “ghost employee,” estimating a loss of $240,000 to the parish over the past six years.

• Maintaining improper medical/dental insurance coverage for an individual, estimating a loss of approximately $26,000 to the parish over the past six years.

• Authorizing a long-term disability policy for one employee, while not providing a similar benefit to other parish staff members, estimating a loss of $20,000 to the parish.

• Allowing for the operation of the St. Thomas More Travel Group as a parish-related activity, while none of the financial transactions, records or bank accounts were disclosed for financial reporting or official purposes.

• Accepting, but not depositing or recording in parish accounts, residual commission checks to the St. Thomas More Travel Group, estimating a loss of $25,000 to the parish over the past six years.
• Failing to record or deposit monies received through the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day special collections according to archdiocesan policies; failing to monitor currency in an amount over $10,000, found in an employee’s office desk.

Belczak, ordained in 1972, also served in the past as first associate pastor and then co-pastor of Royal Oak-based National Shrine of the Little Flower Parish and associate pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Farmington.

He had been with St. Thomas More since 1984.

Monsignor John Zenz, episcopal vicar of the Northwest Region and pastor of Holy Name Parish in Birmingham, has been named administrator of St. Thomas More.

The Troy Police Department is currently conducting its own investigation, reviewing “financial improprieties,” according to a department official.

“The archdiocese has fully cooperated with civil authorities in this case and will continue to do so,” according to a statement from the archdiocese.

Recent church personnel troubles

Members of the clergy and church personnel have had a number of brushes with the law in recent years.

• In December, a West Michigan pastor who authorities say embezzled more than $300,000 could be free within six months if he participates in a boot camp program. Etheridge Henry Moore, who had served as pastor at Heritage Baptist Church near Kentwood, was sentenced one to 20 years in prison. Police began investigating the case last July. Moore turned himself in to church leadership and asked they contact police about his actions. Moore must pay $320,000 in restitution to cover an estimated $316,000 loss and about $4,000 the church spent on accountants.

• Toledo woman who allegedly pocketed about $2.1 million from the United Catholic Credit Union in Temperance pleaded guilty last year as charged to one count each of financial institution embezzlement and racketeering, with both felonies punishable by up to 20 years. Sharon Broadway, 62, pleaded guilty to embezzling the money from the credit union since 1985. She was sentenced Jan. 17 to at least 45 months in prison. The embezzlement was discovered after a routine examination by the Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation showed that a number of certificates of deposit went unrecorded on the credit union’s books.  

• In October, a 77-year-old Roseville woman admitted to stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the Warren church she helped form. Helen Gvozdich pleaded guilty to embezzlement of between $50,000 and $100,0000 under the agreement she would repay $50,000 to St. Stevan Decanski Serbian Orthodox Church. Gvozdich was originally accused in spring 2011 of stealing $79,000 from the church, located on 11 Mile Road. She was sentenced to five years of probation in November and been ordered to repay $50,000.

• The former chief financial officer for Pontiac-based Trinity Missionary Baptist Church was sentenced in September to 50 months to 20 years in prison for embezzling more than $650,000 in church funds in September. The charges against Reuben Bynum, 61, of West Bloomfield, came after the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office launched a forensic investigation at a Trinity deacon’s request and determined that Bynum had forged a required second signature on checks from the church account, as well as misusing the church ATM and debit cards. Bynum was also told to make restitution payments of $669,163 and an additional $99,225 in interest.

• Last August Rev. Peter Petroske, pastor of Dearborn’s Sacred Heart Parish, was arrested naked and intoxicated alone in his vehicle. He faced charges of disorderly/obscene conduct and operating while intoxicated. He was sentenced last December to probation and fined.

• In 2011, a volunteer chaplain at the Ferndale police department was relieved of his duties after a man died at his home of a drug overdose. Mark Bidwell told police he met a man named Steven Fitch on a gay dating website and they agreed to go to his house for sex. Reports indicated that Fitch used crystal meth and later became sick. Police were called but Fitch was pronounced dead of an overdose at a local hospital.

No comments:

Post a Comment