First of Two Fla. priests Accused of Stealing Thousands Pleads Guilty

January 22, 2009

Delray Beach, Fla. (ChattahBox) -– Embezzlment cases have recently been all over the headlines with the biggest coming from West Palm Beach, FL.  But this time it’s not a money manager but two Florida priests accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from their church. Rev. John Skehan and the Rev. Francis Guinan had been charged with stealing to fund lavish lifestyles in what authorities say could be one of the biggest embezzlement cases to hit the U.S. Catholic Church. The stolen money was allegedly used on upscale homes, gambling trips to Las Vegas with a mistress, even a $275,000 rare coin collection.

The Rev. John Skehan, 81, pleaded guilty to bilking parishioners at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach for years, the same day jury selection was set to begin in the case. Skehan, who had been at the church 40 years, had been accused of taking $370,000 between 2001 and 2006, the timeframe covered by the statute of limitations. Church auditors, however, believe the figure stolen over the years was in the millions. Rev. John Skehan may not just have stolen from the parishioners of the church he was pastor of, but a dead woman’s estate also.

Sentencing for Skehan is set for March 20, he could receive up to 31 years in prison or as little as probation, and was hoping for leniency from the judge. Guinan’s trial was delayed until Feb. 18. Guinan, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of stealing $488,000 during the 19 months after he became pastor in September 2003.
His attorney, Richard Barlow, said he would prove Guinan, 66, did nothing wrong, and that Skehan’s plea does not affect his case. Authorities said Guinan had an “intimate relationship” with a former bookkeeper at a church where he’d previously worked and paid her credit card bills and her child’s school tuition with money that wasn’t recorded on the church books. They also said she accompanied the priest on vacations.


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