The Windsor Star
Published on: July 28, 2016 | Last Updated: July 29, 2016 7:30 AM EDT
A priest found guilty of stealing up to $234,000 from his own church should be sentenced to jail for 15 months, a Crown prosecutor said Thursday during a sentence hearing in Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
Given how Rev. Robert Couture created a “lavish lifestyle” for himself that included a new car, vacations, a hefty retirement account and extensive wardrobe, assistant Crown attorney Tom Meehan also asked the court to sentence the priest to two years probation.
He added the priest should be forced to pay back $178,624 for his crime — or reimburse the church to the greatest extent possible.
During his trial last fall, the court heard that from 2002 to 2010, Couture stole for his personal use between $170,000 and $234,000 from Ste. Anne Parish in Tecumseh.
A jury — which found Couture guilty last December of theft over $5,000 — was told in court he took the money from collection plates, donations from funerals, weddings, baptisms and mass donations.
“Those who wear a clerical collar are not seen dressed like they are on the runways of L.A.,” said Meehan, who noted how records also showed Couture spent $70,000 on trips.
He said Couture should be strongly punished by the court, given the length of time, lack of remorse, breach of trust and sophistication of his crimes that included trying to convince investigators other parish staff members were to blame.
During the trial, Meehan said the true amount stolen by Couture will likely never be known.
“This was a large-scale theft nurtured by selfish interests and personal gain,” he said.
Defence lawyer Pat Ducharme during the sentence hearing asked that Couture — who still maintains his innocence — be spared jail time. He said Couture’s actions were fees for service and not personal gain.
Couture, dressed sharply in a black suit, sat attentively though the hearing with hands folded in his lap. He chatted amiably with friends during breaks and following the hearing.
Justice Scott Campbell said he will announce Couture’s sentence in Superior Court on Oct. 3 at 2 p.m.
The Catholic Diocese of London has not moved to have the former pastor defrocked, but he has been removed from any service as a priest with no plans to put him back in a church.
Defrocking a priest is a decision the Pope would have to make and generally only occurs in sexual abuse cases, according to the diocese.
Local Priest Found Guilty of Theft Will Be Sentenced In October
July 28, 2016 01:53 from Teresinha Medeiros
(AM800 file photo. Superior Court in downtown Windsor)
A former Tecumseh priest found guilty of theft will be sentenced in October.
A sentencing hearing has taken place for 52-year-old Robert Couture who was found guilty of theft over $5000 following a trial back in December.
The defence wants no jail term and suggested either a conditional discharge or a term of house arrest.
The crown wants 15-months in jail plus two years probation.
During the trial, the crown argued Couture stole up to $230,000 from St. Anne’s Parish from 2002 to 2010. Couture is still a priest but no longer performs church duties.
Couture maintains his innocence.
The defence argued the trial has had a profound impact on Couture and his future.
The crown alleges the crime was an “abuse of authority that was motivated by selfish interests.”
The crown is asking for restitution in the amount of over $178,000
The judge will hand down his sentence October 3rd, 2pm.