Priest accused of theft has $350,000 put away for retirement

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The Windsor Star

Published on: December 2, 2015 | Last Updated: December 2, 2015 8:26 PM EST

Trevor Wilhelm, Windsor Star

At age 43 — with hundreds of thousands in retirement savings — Rev. Robert Couture was already talking about being able to retire comfortably.

“I was moving in that direction,” Couture, 53, testified Wednesday in his criminal trial.

The former pastor of Tecumseh’s Ste. Anne Parish spent Day 8 of his trial on the witness stand Wednesday taking questions from his lawyer and the prosecutor.

Couture is charged with theft over $5,000. He is accused of stealing between $170,000 and $234,000 from 2002 to 2010.

Couture told defence lawyer Patrick Ducharme that, despite discussion about meagre priest wages at trial, his total gross income was $85,000 to $95,000 a year. He said his gross priest salary was about $23,000 a year, plus room and board worth about $12,000.

He said he was also paid $10,000 annually during his 19-year stint as a school board trustee and made about $3,000 a year as a part-time teacher.

The rest of that $85,000 to $95,000 income came from doing weddings, funerals, baptisms and other events.

Couture said the church held an average of 15 masses a week, two or three weddings during the eight-month season, and about 200 baptisms a year. He did most of those.

When assistant Crown attorney Tom Meehan asked Couture if he’d be willing to provide an income tax return to prove his income, the reply was “no.” Couture said he wouldn’t be willing because that is “private.”

During cross-examination, Couture said he had about $350,000 saved up for retirement. He also said he lost an additional $200,000 in investments.

Meehan pointed out that in a two-year period, Couture put more than $89,000 into investments. That included separate deposits of $15,200, $26,000 and $47,500.

Couture said $27,500 out of the $47,500 deposit came from a line of credit. He said he was able to save up that much because he had few expenses and drove used cars. One of those used cars was a Cadillac, which he paid more than $26,000 in cash for.

Couture also faced questions about his “lifestyle,” including what the prosecution said was more than $65,000 in travel expenses he put on his personal Visa card. The travel expenses noted Wednesday included $20,000 for airfare, $5,000 for hotels and $8,900 for other travel packages.

Couture said he never calculated the totals.

“I’ll have to take your word for it,” he told Meehan.

Couture made thousands of dollars on that personal Visa by depositing money into a TD bank account he opened in the church’s name, then forwarding it to the credit card.

He was questioned at length Wednesday about that TD account, which was not authorized by the London diocese. Couture said there were “very strict guidelines” for use of the church’s main account.

He said the TD account allowed him more freedom to accept anonymous donations, quietly give to the needy and pay priests for celebrating masses. Couture acknowledged it wasn’t authorized.

“I opened an account because I thought it was in the best interest of the community,” he said.

When Meehan asked what authority Couture had to open the account, he replied, “I believe it was my authority as pastor.

“I was given pastoral responsibility of the parish and that decision I made as the pastor,” Couture said.

10 Responses to Priest accused of theft has $350,000 put away for retirement

  1. Sylvia says:

    I don’t believe it! Was the Crown not able to obtain copies of Father Couture’s income tax return? Surely those are available to the courts in cases such as this?

    I am floored!

    That aside, my goodness but he sounds so saucy !

  2. Sylvia says:

    Here’s a link to CTV video clip of yesterday’s proceedings:

  3. Sylvia says:

    I will post this later, but for now, here’s a link to CBC coverage

    Note that Father Couture is back on the stand today.

  4. Brad Toulouse says:

    I believe that as a diocesan priest he did not have to take a vow of poverty, correct? Not saying what he did was correct by any means. But what I know as a former parishioner was that he worked incredibly hard….more masses and services like weddings and baptisms performed than any other priest I know! Motivated by the almighty dollar? Perhaps. If this was a corporate situation we would say he just worked harder and was rewarded with a higher income. But it becomes fuzzier since he is a priest. Trust me though he created an environment at that church which encourages this type of behaviour to continue and flourish. Certain that there are regularly hundreds if not thousands of unaccounted for dollars at Ste Anne Tecumseh and people there have used their positions to further there own economic goals and agendas…one of several reasons I finally had to leave.

    • Zzz says:

      Brad Toulouse, your comments about continuing unaccounted funds is disgusting . Many of our parishioners are working hard & succeeding in getting St. Anne’s back to being their spiritual home . Your continuos tearing down of our church is a slap in the face to good parishioners . I am glad that you are a magician ….. You made yourself disappear . You sir , will not be missed !

      • PJ says:

        At least he’s not afraid to use his name…hard to take someone serious who uses the sound of sleeping as a name.

      • PJ says:

        At least he’s not afraid to use his name…hard to take someone serious who uses the sound of sleeping as a name!!!

        • Mike says:

          Zzz’s real name or not, unless you know the REAL Brad Toulouse you are assuming he is speaking the truth. He is a thorn that has finally festered enough to expel itself hopefully taking all the infection with him. Hopefully we have seen the last of him at St. Anne as he has found a “new” Church to attend until it doesn’t agree with his mentality and he decides to criticize it and move again.

  5. J says:

    I believe that he is not on the stand today. He is all done is my understanding. I suspect that there will be a financial witness for the defense. Probably an accountant. That would only make sense. I am hoping to hear something more on this area. Also if you add up what I mentioned earlier the income looks about right. The school board income and the honorariums and so on.

  6. jg says:

    “Couture said he never calculated the totals.”

    There is your answer!…
    When it is your money, your investments, your expenses…you damn well calculate if you want to get ahead, survive, retire…
    A free loader has a different perspective because there is always more where that came from.
    Revenue Canada should match his expenses with his revenues and they may not take “NO” as an acceptable answer….

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