Omaha priest arrested, facing charges of theft, abuse of vulnerable adult

He said he used funds from late priest’s estate to help homeless man after he ran out of his own money to give him.

Rev. Michael F. Gutgsell

By Gina Dvorak

An Omaha priest was arrested Friday morning accused of stealing from an incapacitated retired priest who had willed his estate to the Archdiocese of Omaha, saying he was giving the money to a homeless man.

The Rev. Michael F. Gutgsell was arrested at 7:35 a.m. Friday and taken to Douglas County Jail. He appeared in court Friday afternoon to face charges of theft and abuse, and was released on his own recognizance.

His preliminary hearing is set for Nov. 24.

Gutgsell’s attorney released a statement following Friday’s hearing:

“Since learning of an open criminal investigation, Fr. Michael Gutgsell has fully cooperated with law enforcement. Fr. Gutgsell made arrangements to turn himself in as required by statute immediately upon his knowledge and confirmation of an arrest warrant.

We are saddened and disappointed in the filing of charges by the Douglas County Attorney. We will await the outcome of the pending investigation and allow the justice system to work. We are confident as these claims continue to be thoroughly investigated that an appropriate and positive outcome will be forthcoming. We ask for patience and privacy during this process and extend our sincere appreciation for those that have supported Fr. Gutgsell throughout these difficult times.”

According to court documents, Gutgsell is accused of stealing $154,732 from an individual between Oct. 12, 2018, and January 2020. He faces two Class 3A felony charges: theft of $5,000 or more and abuse of a vulnerable adult.

Father Gutgsell had been the priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Springfield, Neb., until July 2021.

Court documents state that Sarpy County auditors had found “irregularities” in the church finances, specifically that the Gutgsell had the bookkeeper write out 76 checks, totaling about $123,000, to the priest between October 2019 and July 2021.

The Archdiocese of Omaha called him in for an interview on Aug. 2, at which time he admitted to taking $180,000, saying he was giving the money to a homeless man he had met in May 2013 while he was a pastor at St. Cecelia Cathedral Church in Omaha.

Subpoenaed bank records found Gutgsell had written 111 checks, totaling $167,382, to himself from the account of a retired priest who had died in December 2019 and willed his estate to the Archdiocese of Omaha. Gutgsell, who was made power of attorney or personal representative on the retired priest’s accounts in January 2017, also made 14 other cash withdrawals totaling $11,660, documents state. With access to retirement and brokerage accounts, Gutgsell used the funds to write himself checks. He also purchased about $50,000 in mutual funds in November 2019, court records show.

Gutgsell said he gave the money to a homeless man he had been giving his own money to, noting that the man disappeared for three months about three months after they met, documents state. When the man reappeared, he again asked for money. At one point the man said he would reimburse Gutgsell using a Social Security disability account that was being withheld from him. The priest said over time he paid $250,000 from his own personal funds before eventually draining his banking, retirement, and insurance accounts.

The pastor told investigators that he believed the homeless man, who was not Catholic or a member of his parish, to be a very sick homeless man who needed his help, recounting stories the man had told him about how he had helped police by “breaking up fights and stopping shoplifters,” court records state. But there was always a “complication” that would arise delaying the man’s disability payout in order to reimburse Gutgsell.

Court documents state that in early 2017 and again in October 2019, Gutgsell began taking money from the archdiocese when he began running out of his own funds. He said he had been working to pay back the money, reimbursing about $19,000.

In total, the pastor said he had given the man about $700,000 from May 2013 to July 2021, records state.

This summer the archdiocese directed Gutgsell to resign as the pastor of St. Joseph’s and placed him on indefinite administrative leave.

“The Rev Michael F. Gutgsell was recently charged by the Douglas County Attorney for attempted theft by unlawful taking and vulnerable adult abuse. Both of these charges are Class IIIA felonies.

The Archdiocese of Omaha will have no comment since the matter now belongs to law enforcement and the judicial system.”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Church bankrolling opposition to biz-backed LGBTQ rights expansion

FILE UNDER: Insulated, monolithic, callous, tone deaf church power structure

BY

The Michigan Catholic Conference has contributed nearly $240,000 to a campaign committee opposing a business-backed initiative to expand Michigan’s civil rights law to include protections for LGBTQ individuals.

Campaign finance reports filed on Monday show the Lansing-based Michigan Catholic Conference, which bills itself as “the official voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan on matters of public policy,” has made $238,874.80 in direct and in-kind contributions to Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice, an organization formed in April that has actively opposed the LGBTQ initiative. The MCC made up nearly all of the committee’s $204,175 in direct contributions this funding cycle.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign launched the ballot initiative to expand Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 to enshrine protections in employment and public accommodations for LGBTQ individuals and ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers voted unanimously on Monday to reject Fair and Equal Michigan’s petition signatures, claiming the campaign didn’t have enough valid signatures to advance the proposal.

Fair and Equal Michigan officials have vowed to appeal the Board of Canvassers’ vote to the state Court of Appeals.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign has received widespread support from some of Michigan’s largest employers, including Consumers Energy, DTE Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and General Motors, to name a few. Executives have said expanding the civil rights law is not only a human rights issue, but also a key component to attracting and retaining talent to the state.

Earlier this year, Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice filed a challenge against Fair and Equal Michigan before the Board of State Canvassers, as Michigan Advance previously reported. The newly formed committee had ties to attorneys who had previously fought LGBTQ measures, but it was unclear at the time who was funding the organization.

Campaign finance reports show the Michigan Catholic Conference directly contributed $200,000 to Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice on July 2, and gave another $38,874.80 in in-kind donations on July 7. The committee has also received $3,000 from issue advocacy group Michigan Future First, and $1,000 from the Lansing-based Michigan Family Forum. The committee reported $80,389.55 in expenditures, leaving nearly $124,000 in cash on hand.

Citizens for Equality, Fairness and Justice Treasurer Daniel Wholihan declined to comment for this story, referring questions to committee spokesperson and Republican political strategist Patrick Meyers.

Meyers said in an emailed statement to MiBiz: “The Board of State Canvassers got it right: the so-called “Fair and Equal” petition clearly submitted an inadequate number of signatures for their initiative. They got a fair and equal review by the Bureau of Elections, but fell well short, and we’re pleased that their poorly drafted, misleading proposal is now off the table for 2022.”

Officials with the Michigan Catholic Conference did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The organization issued a press release Monday about its effort to support challenges to Fair and Equal Michigan.

“The Fair and Equal Michigan proposal includes an unprecedented and likely unconstitutional provision to define religion only as a person’s individual beliefs and would restrict the ability for religious organizations to provide humanitarian aid and social services in the public square,” MCC Vice President for Communications David Maluchnik said in a statement. “The proposal would have a crushing impact on the poor of Michigan by harming many Catholic and Christian, Muslim, and Jewish organizations who daily and outwardly express their faith as a way of life out of love for their neighbor.”

Fair and Equal Michigan Spokesperson Josh Hovey told MiBiz: “When we have every major business group in the state … endorsing us, it’s not necessarily suprising but it’s transparent to see who’s out there funding the opposition. And unfortunately it’s the opposition.”

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal among 10 indicted by Vatican for financial crimes

Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who has been caught up in a real estate scandal, speaks to the media a day after he resigned suddenly and gave up his right to take part in an eventual conclave to elect a pope, near the Vatican, in Rome, Italy, September 25, 2020.

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  • Pope approved move against cardinal, who says he is innocent
  • Former head of Vatican Financial Intelligence denies charges
  • Becciu most senior Vatican official charged with financial crime
  • Trial to start July 27

A prominent Italian cardinal was among 10 people sent to trial in the Vatican on Saturday charged with financial crimes including embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, extortion and abuse of office.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, formerly a senior official in the Vatican administration, as well as two top officials at the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Unit will go on trial on July 27 over a multi-million euro scandal involving the Vatican’s purchase of a building in one of London’s smartest districts.

The trial will inevitably bring a swirl of media interest to the tiny city-state surrounded by Rome, and appears to underscore Pope Francis’ determination to cure the rot in Vatican finances, even if it involves messy public hearings.

Becciu, 73, whom the pope fired from his senior clerical post last year for alleged nepotism, and who has always maintained his innocence during a two-year investigation, becomes the most senior Vatican official to be charged with financial crimes.

The pope personally gave the required approval last week for Becciu to be indicted, according to a 487-page indictment request seen by Reuters. The Vatican announced the indictments in a two-page statement.

The charges against Becciu include embezzlement and abuse of office. An Italian woman who worked for him was charged with embezzlement and the cardinal’s former secretary, a priest, was accused of extortion.

Becciu said in a statement that he was a victim of a “machination” and reaffirmed his “absolute innocence”.

Two Italian brokers, Gianluigi Torzi and Raffaele Mincione, were charged with embezzlement, fraud and money laundering. Torzi, for whom Italian magistrates issued an arrest warrant in April, was also charged with extortion.

There was no immediate response to attempts to reach their lawyers, but both men have consistently denied wrongdoing.
Four companies associated with individual defendants, two in Switzerland, one in the United States and one in Slovenia, were also indicted, according to the document.

POLICE RAID

The investigation into the purchase of the building became public on Oct. 1, 2019, when Vatican police raided the offices of the Secretariat of State, the administrative heart of the Catholic Church, and those of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF).

The then-president of the AIF, Rene Bruelhart, a 48-year-old Swiss, and AIF’s former Italian director, Tommaso Di Ruzza, 46, were charged with abuse of office for allegedly failing to adequately protect the Vatican’s interests and giving Torzi what the indictment request called an “undue advantage”.

Di Ruzza was also accused of embezzlement related to alleged inappropriate use of his official credit card, and of divulging confidential information.

Bruelhart said in a text message that he had “always carried out my functions and duties with correctness” and that “the truth about my innocence will emerge.”

Di Ruzza did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment.

In 2014, the Secretariat of State invested more than 200 million euros, much of it from contributions from the faithful, in a fund run by Mincione, securing about 45% of a commercial and residential building at 60 Sloane Avenue in London’s South Kensington district.

The indictment request said Mincione had tried to deceive the Vatican, which in 2018 tried to end the relationship.
It turned to Torzi for help in buying up the rest of the building, but later accused him of extortion.

‘ENORMOUS LOSSES’

At the time, Becciu was in the last year of his post as deputy secretary of state for general affairs, a powerful administrative position that handles hundreds of millions of euros.

All told, the Secretariat of State sank more than 350 million euros into the investment, according to Vatican media, and suffered what Cardinal George Pell, the former Vatican treasurer, told Reuters last year were “enormous losses”.

Torzi was arrested in the Vatican in June 2020, and spent a week in custody.

According to the indictment request, Becciu is charged with five counts of embezzlement, two of abuse of office, and one count of inducing a witness to perjury. About 75 pages of the document are dedicated to Becciu.

It says Becciu tried to “heavily deflect” the inquiry into Vatican investments, including the London building, and tried to discredit the investigating magistrates via the Italian media.

Becciu continued to have influence over money transfers at the Secretariat even after he left the post, the document said.

The main charges against Becciu involve the alleged funnelling of money and contracts to companies or charitable organisations controlled by his brothers on their native island of Sardinia.

Another Sardinian, Cecilia Maronga, 40, who worked for Becciu, was charged with embezzlement. Her cellphone was not connected.

The indictment request said she had received about 575,000 euros from the Secretariat of State in 2018-2019.

She has said on Italian television that the money, sent to her company in Slovenia, was to ransom kidnapped missionaries in Africa. But the indictment request said much of it was used for “personal benefit”, including the purchase of luxury goods.

Complete Article HERE!

Former Rapid City priest sentenced to 7.75 years in prison for stealing from diocese

Marcin Garbacz

By

A former Rapid City priest will serve 7.75 years in federal prison and owes more than $300,000 in restitution after being convicted of 65 felony financial crimes related to stealing donations from the diocese.

Marcin Garbacz “exploited his position as a priest” and “continues to play the victim,” prosecutor Benjamin Patterson said Monday at the federal courthouse in Rapid City.

Garbacz, 42, was sentenced after a jury convicted him of 50 counts of wire fraud, nine counts of money laundering, five counts of filing false tax returns, and one count of transporting stolen money between 2012 and 2018.

Garbacz apologized to parishioners, saying he unfairly harmed them while he was angry with the Diocese of Rapid City and the Catholic Church. Among other complaints, he said he was upset that church doctrine considers gay men like him “intrinsically disordered.”

Your crimes were serious, deliberate and show evidence of a “sophisticated criminal mind,” Judge Jeffrey Viken told Garbacz.

Viken said 4.75 years of the sentence is for the crimes related to stealing from the diocese while the remaining three years is for stealing from the IRS and American people by filing false tax returns. Viken also sentenced Garbacz to three years of supervised release once he’s completed his prison term.

Garbacz owes $258,696 to the diocese that will be equally divided among the three Rapid City churches he stole from, Viken said. He also owes $46,008 to the IRS for the tax crimes for a total of $304,704 in restitution.

“The diocese trusts in the judicial system and appreciates its dedication in making sure that justice is served in this case,” the diocese said in an emailed statement.

About a dozen community members and a half-dozen priests attended the hearing. None of them gave victim impact statements during the hearing and the priests declined interviews.

However, priests from the three victimized churches — the Cathedral, Saint Therese and Blessed Sacrament — submitted sealed victim impact statements to Viken. Father Michel Mulloy, the former diocesan administrator, sent a statement before the diocese announced this fall that he is under investigation after being accused of sexually abusing a child in the early 1980s.

Garbacz received 11 letters of support from the community that were written before it was announced last Friday that he’s facing new child sexual abuse charges.

Garbacz made an unusually long statement compared to other defendants who chose to speak during their sentencing hearing.

“I’m really sorry for what I did … I know that I violated their trust,” he said.

Garbacz said he harmed parishioners who donated to the church and those who could have been helped with the funds. He did not directly apologize to his fellow priests, the former bishop he served under or the diocese.

“I disagreed with the institution” and was treated as a “second-class citizen,” he said.

Garbacz said he was at odds with the Catholic Church over its teachings on same-sex attraction. He also said the diocese discouraged priests from showing any signs of weakness and gave them unrealistic and unclear goals.

“I felt I needed to leave the job,” he said of why he moved to Washington and started working at FedEx after completing a treatment program in St. Louis instead of returning to his priestly duties in Rapid City.

Garbacz said the steps former Bishop Robert Gruss said he needed to take to be un-suspended were unrealistic. He also said he realized he already lost credibility in the diocese and wanted to work on taking care of himself.

Garbacz said he wants to continue therapy and find a new career so he can pay his restitution.

“I can’t explain it away,” defense lawyer Jennifer Albertson said of her client’s crimes.

Albertson said Garbacz differed from many of her clients in that he had a good upbringing. However it was probably “psychologically damaging” to be gay while growing up in Poland and then becoming a Catholic priest, she said.

She said the diocese had questioned whether it was a good idea to bring Garbacz to the diocese but did not explain what she meant by that. The diocese did not immediately respond to a message about this.

Albertson said Garbacz ultimately committed a “crime of opportunity” since he had access to where the donations were stored and the diocese did a poor job accounting for the cash. It then “got out of control.”

She asked for a prison term that would let Garbacz return to work and pay restitution while he’s still young and healthy.

“Those people deserve that money back,” Albertson said of the parishioners who donated. “Those are the people he really hurt.”

Patterson asked for a seven-year sentence.

Monday was the first time Garbacz apologized and expressed that he knew he hurt people, Patterson said. He said Garbacz recently said he went to trial to show how the church was bad at tracking money and that the expensive items he bought — which included a $10,000 diamond ring, a grand piano and a Cadillac — were all used for church purposes.

“He can’t see past himself,” Patterson said.

He said Garbacz committed “multiple acts in multiple states,” caused parishioners to stop donating to the church, harmed priests who were his friends, and made the diocese lose credibility.

Garbacz’s crimes and concealment were complex, Patterson added. Among other acts, Garbacz repeatedly stole money, committed his thefts during the night, bought tamper proof bags, forged signatures, lied about how he paid for expensive items, made multiple deposits to avoid IRS suspicion, took out his money once he was caught and prepared to flee to Poland.

The fact that $40,000 of Garbacz’s stolen money remains missing shows how he covered up his crimes, Patterson said.

Garbacz will not be headed directly to prison because he’s now facing the separate indictment related to child sexual abuse.

He’s charged with possessing child porn between July 2011 and May 2019 and “engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place” by traveling to another country and having sexual conduct with a boy under the age of 18.

Garbacz used to work as a parish priest but became a teacher and chaplain at the Rapid City Catholic School System by July 2012, Patterson said during the trial. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. ​

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic diocese paid paltry sums to two poor, black abuse victims

A SURVIVOR of clerical abuse, and now the Mississippi coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), has blasted the Jackson Diocese and a Franciscan order over paltry compensation payments made to two black men who were abused by a friar in the 1990s.

Mark Belenchia

by Barry Duke

Mark Belenchia, above, was commenting on the settlements made to La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love who suffered abuse at the hands of Paul A West.

The former Franciscan friar and fourth-grade teacher has been extradited from Wisconsin to Mississippi to faces sexual battery charges.

Belenchia, whose abuse by a Catholic priest began when he was around 13 and lasted for three years, said of the settlements:

They were harmed as children and they were harmed as adults. The Diocese of Jackson and the Franciscan order ought to be ashamed of their performance.

Reporting for Religion News Service, Michael Rezendes wrote:

The men making the allegations, La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love, both 37, are cousins who grew up together and encountered West in the 1990s, when he was a teacher and later the principal at the St. Francis of Assisi School in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Three years ago, the cousins reported that West sexually assaulted them on school grounds and on road trips, including one to a New York summer camp established by the Franciscans, a Roman Catholic religious order.

As The Associated Press first reported, nearly two years ago La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love each agreed to settle their claims for $15,000 – far less than most clergy abuse victims receive.

A third man, Joshua’s younger brother, Raphael, also alleged West sexually abused him and reported the abuse to church authorities in 1998, after which West returned to Wisconsin. Raphael Love rejected a settlement similar to those signed by his brother and cousin.

In November, La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love filed a lawsuit in federal district court in New York, claiming the Franciscans pressured them into signing low-ball settlements that required their silence about their allegations. At the time they signed the settlements, they were not represented by an attorney.

“They felt they could treat us that way because we’re poor and we’re Black,” Joshua Love told the AP.

Father James Gannon, the leader of a Wisconsin-based group of Franciscan Friars, negotiated the settlements. Last summer, he denied that racism or the Loves’ poverty were factors in the amount of money offered . “Absolutely not,” he told the AP.

In 2006, the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, which includes Greenwood, settled lawsuits covering 19 victims — 17 of whom were white – for $5 million. That average payout of $263,000 for each survivor is 17 times that offered to each of the Loves. Payments in more recent settlements nationally have ranged far higher.

Gannon also attempted to negotiate a similar agreement with Raphael Love, Joshua Love’s younger brother, who is serving two life sentences in a Tennessee prison for a double homicide he committed as a juvenile. Raphael Love refused Gannon’s offer because, he said, the amount was not enough to hire a criminal attorney willing to argue that he deserves a new trial.

West, 60, did not contest his extradition at a hearing in Outagamie Country, Wisconsin on August 17. He arrived at the Leflore County Jail in Greenwood, Mississippi, earlier this week following an investigation by the Mississippi Attorney General’s public integrity division.

West also has been charged with second-degree sexual assault of a child in Wisconsin.

Complete Article HERE!