“Father Joe LeClair pleads guilty to fraud and theft” & related article

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 The Ottawa Citizen (Print edition)

21 January  2014

Father Joe LeClair pleads guilty to fraud and theft

Father Joe Leclair, left, arrives at the Ottawa courthouse in the company of his lawyer, Matt Webber.

Photograph by: Chris Mikula , Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — Father Joseph LeClair stole from the Blessed Sacrament collection plate.

He pocketed money paid by hundreds of couples for marriage preparation courses.

And the man diagnosed as a “pathological gambler” bilked the church of even more money by writing himself and others cheques from the church account, including to a friend to pay for his lavish vacation.

The beloved priest left courtroom No. 10 Monday afternoon a convicted fraudster after he pleaded guilty to fraud and theft charges that were laid more than a year after the Citizen raised concerns about financial irregularities at the church in early 2011.

Still, parishioners filled the courtroom Monday to support their former pastor.

LeClair wore a burgundy sweater, white dress-shirt, black tie and dress pants when he stood in front of Ontario Court Justice Jack Nadelle and said, “Guilty” as he pleaded to the charges based on an agreed statement of facts.

Assistant Crown attorney Peter Napier told court the Archdiocese of Ottawa hired the accounting firm Deloitte and Touche to audit church finances.

The audit found that $1.16 million was deposited into LeClair’s account between January 2006 and December 2010, but $769,000 of that was his salary, legitimate stipends, gifts from parishioners or casino winnings, Napier told court.

Roughly $400,000 of the $1.16 million deposited into LeClair’s personal account could not be explained, court heard.

Napier, however, told court that he accepted for the purpose of the plea deal that the priest defrauded Blessed Sacrament of $130,000.

Court heard that LeClair also wrote $61,800 worth of cheques to himself over a five-year period from the church’s mass account.

The cheques were disguised as stipends and were often used by LeClair to pay down his personal credit card debt incurred from gambling.

“Under the rules of the church and the parish, Father LeClair was not entitled to receive these funds that he claimed as stipends,” Napier read from the agreed statement of facts.

Court heard that LeClair confessed during a six-hour interview with Sgt. Richard Dugal, the lead investigator on the case, that he stole $35,000 from the marriage preparation course revenue to pay his gambling debts.

Couples paid $157,000 for the marriage preparation course between Jan. 1, 2006, and May 31, 2011, but only $13,170 was ever deposited into the church account, court heard. He insisted couples pay for the course in cash.

LeClair also admitted on Monday that he deposited more than $16,000 over five years in collection plate money into his personal account. The collections were kept in LeClair’s office closet or bedroom instead of in a safe, court heard.

The record-keeping at the church was very relaxed and almost non-existent, Napier told court. LeClair was able to reimburse himself for purchases by writing himself cheques from the church account.

For example, LeClair bought a fridge for the church for $2,240, but wrote himself a cheque for $3,000.

LeClair also wrote a cheque from the parish account in January 2011 to repay a friend for a vacation they took together. The memo on the $5,700 cheque said, “Fr. Joe X-mas.”

In addition to the trip, court heard that LeClair often wined and dined volunteers to thank them for their contributions to the church. He also handed out cash to needy members of the community, according to parishioner Hilliard Murdock who testified in LeClair’s defence on Monday.

“He’s amazing. He just reaches out to anyone,” Murdock told court.

When LeClair took over Blessed Sacrament, the “parish had all but ceased to exist,” one of LeClair’s defence lawyers, Matthew Webber, told court. Attendance was dwindling and the parish faced financial difficulties.

LeClair turned the church around and the number of parishioners and church volunteers exploded, court heard.

But with more parishioners came increased duties. LeClair’s defence team painted a picture Monday of an over-worked parish priest who went above and beyond the call of duty.

He spent countless hours counselling parishioners, doing home visits or visiting with the sick. LeClair also worked with more than 30 church committees, went to all of the church events, said masses, officiated at weddings and funerals.

“He used to make me tired watching,” Murdock told court. “He never said no.”

At Christmas, LeClair opened his home to anyone for a visit, a bit of lobster bisque or cheese and crackers, Parishioner Lisa Fooks testified. He hardly had time to himself.

Fooks told court she remembered a time when she and her husband dropped LeClair off at home around midnight after a late dinner. A hysterical woman was waiting on his doorstep, but LeClair didn’t turn her away.

“There was really no limit,” Fooks said.

Parishioner Joyce Fournier testified she also experienced LeClair’s compassion. He was the chaplain at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in 1992 when Fournier experienced the grief of losing a child for the second time.

Fournier and her family developed such a bond with LeClair that when Napier questioned her trust of the former pastor since the charges, she said she trusts him with her life.

“He’s held my life together, he’s held my family’s life together,” Fournier said.

While he helped others, LeClair’s life seemed to unravel. Webber told court that LeClair has struggled with depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse.

LeClair was also diagnosed by a psychiatrist as a “pathological gambler,” according to a psychological evaluation submitted to court.

LeClair’s sentencing hearing will continue on Tuesday morning.

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Prince Edward Island priest pleads guilty of theft from Ottawa church

Rev. Joseph LeClair, originally from Tignish, admits stealing $130,000 from Blessed Sacrament church in Glebe region

The Guardian (PEI)

Published on January 21, 2014

Father Joe LeClair, left, arrives at the Ottawa courthouse in the company of his lawyer, Matt Webber.

OTTAWA —  A Prince Edward Island priest, once the popular leader at Blessed Sacrament church in the Glebe region of Ottawa, pleaded guilty Monday to fraud and theft after admitting he wrote parish cheques to himself and stole money from the collection plate.Meanwhile, the Crown dropped charges of money laundering and breach of trust, which were laid in July 2012 after an 11-month police investigation.

Rev. Joseph LeClair, who is originally from Tignish, pleaded guilty to fraud and theft based on an agreed statement of facts that said the Archdiocese of Ottawa hired the accounting firm Deloitte and Touche to audit church finances after media reports about LeClair’s gambling in 2011.

The audit found that $1.16 million was deposited into LeClair’s account over a five-year period, but $769,000 of that was his salary, legitimate stipends, gifts from parishioners or casino winnings.

The statement of facts said roughly $400,000 could not be explained, but Assistant Crown Attorney Peter Napier said he accepted for the purpose of the plea deal that the priest defrauded Blessed Sacrament of $130,000.

The Ottawa police were called in to investigate the misuse of parish funds in October 2011.

What police found was that LeClair secured “significant” cash advances on his credit card between Jan. 1, 2006, and May 31, 2011, a majority of which were made at the Casino du Lac-Leamy.

Police found LeClair, 56, wrote $61,800 worth of cheques to himself from the church’s mass account, which were identified as stipends and often used to pay down his personal credit card debt.

“Under the rules of the church and the parish, Father LeClair was not entitled to receive these funds that he claimed as stipends,” Napier read from the agreed statement of facts.

Police also found that only $13,170 out of $157,000 in revenue from marriage preparation courses over five years was deposited into the church account.

LeClair insisted that couples who took the course pay the $100 fee in cash, the agreed statement of facts said.

The $13,170 that was deposited into the church account was paid by cheque, court heard.

In an interview with Sgt. Richard Dugal that lasted more than six hours, the former priest admitted that $35,000 of the marriage course revenue was used to pay his gambling debts.

LeClair also admitted that more than $16,000 over five years in collection plate money was deposited into his personal account, court heard Monday, and was used to repay his gambling debts.

Ottawa Archbishop Terence Prendergast issued a written statement saying: “Despite this difficult decision affecting Fr. LeClair’s life, I know that he is relieved to have this painful moment behind him. I share his desire, and that of the many people who supported him over the last two years, to move on and to look to the future.

“Fr. LeClair admitted to the addictions which were harmful to him personally and to his pastoral ministry. As we have from the first day when Fr. LeClair’s problems became known to us, we continue to support Fr. LeClair in his recovery.”

Meghan Hurley is a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen

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Sentencing hearing continues for Father Joe LeClair

1310 News

News staff

OTTAWA – The sentencing hearing for an Ottawa priest continues Tuesday at the Elgin Street courthouse.

Joseph Leclair, 56, pleaded guilty to fraud and theft charges Monday after bilking his church in the Glebe of $130,000 over a five-year period.

The former priest of Blessed Sacrament Church has been called a pathological gambler by a doctor who assessed him for the trial.

From 2006 to May 2011, Leclair stole the money to finance his gambling habits, routinely rounding up expenses and pocketing the difference among other things.

The court heard from character witnesses all day Monday.

The defence is expected to seek a sentence Leclair can serve in the community, while the Crown is expected to be looking for jail time.

In a written statement, Ottawa Archbishop Terence Prendergast said it’s time to move on.

“Despite this difficult decision affecting Fr. LeClair’s life, I know that he is relieved to have this painful moment behind him,” wrote Prendergast. “I share his desire, and that of the many people who supported him over the last two years, to move on and to look to the future.”

“Fr. LeClair admitted to the addictions which were harmful to him personally and to his pastoral ministry,” he added. “As we have from the first day when Fr. LeClair’s problems became known to us, we continue to support Fr. LeClair in his recovery.”

The Ottawa Archdiocese filed a complaint with police in August of 2011, which led to a police investigation covering church funds from January 2006 to May 2011.

The results from the investigation found that over $240,000 in the form of cheques from the Parish were allegedly misappropriated by LeClair, and $160,000 in cash revenues were unaccounted for.

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