Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Troy, Michigan priest seeks access to bank accounts frozen during probe

A popular priest removed at St. Thomas More Parish during an embezzlement investigation is seeking access to his personal bank accounts frozen nine months ago by authorities.

Rev. Edward Belczak, 67, has not been criminally charged but was “temporarily excluded” as head of the parish in January by the Archdiocese of Detroit after an internal audit revealed $429,000 in “questionable transactions and practices.” Belczak, pastor at the church for nearly 30 years, was also ordered out of his church-provided lodgings.

Troy police obtained a search warrant and had Belczak’s bank accounts frozen as part of an investigation that now involves the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A request to unfreeze the accounts scheduled Wednesday before Oakland Circuit Judge Denise Langford Morris was adjourned until Dec. 18.

Belczak’s attorney, who could not be reached for comment, wants Morris to unfreeze the accounts because Belczak has not been charged months later.

Troy City Attorney Julie Quinlan Dufrane declined comment but wrote in legal filings to Morris that any conclusion “Troy police have evidently found no basis to charge ... is simply wrong. Federal and state prosecutors continue to review hundreds of documents and financial transactions and are proceeding cautiously and prudently likely because of the standing of Plaintiff within the Archdiocese of Detroit. ...

“Nine months is not an excessive amount of time to spend reviewing the information for possible charges,” Dufrane wrote in a Dec. 8 filing. “Moreover, at this point there are serious questions concerning the possibility that the funds held in the subject account (s) may not rightfully belong to plaintiff. There is also a strong possibility that if the accounts are unfrozen, the accounts will be significantly if not fully depleted and the rightful owner (s) of funds will never recover the funds.”

In a press release earlier this year, the archdiocese highlighted concerns about financial dealings that included Belczak allegedly taking at least $108,000 in unauthorized compensation, directing money to himself over the past six years and compensating a “ghost employee” $240,000 over the past six years

Another issue under investigation is Belczak’s purchase of a $500,000 Florida condominium in 2005 from a former church employee, Janice Verschuren. Verschuren, St. Thomas More’s administrator and facilities manager for nearly 20 years, left her job in January.

Belczak’s pay falls into the mid-$30,000 range, according to the archdiocese.

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