By Meghan Hurley, Ottawa Citizen
Photograph by: Chris Mikula , The Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA — Rev. Joseph LeClair, once the popular priest at Blessed Sacrament church in the Glebe, 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.
LeClair 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 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.
Leclair’s sentencing hearing continues Monday afternoon.
Father Joe LeClair pleads guilty to fraud, theft
20 January 2014
By: Alison Sandor (@CFRA_Alison)
Father Joseph LeClair has pleaded guilty to several charges in relation to thousands of dollars that went missing from the Blessed Sacrament Church in the Glebe.
Father LeClair was charged with fraud, theft, breach of trust and laundering the proceeds of crime charged in 2012 following a lengthy investigation by police.
Ottawa Police allege more than $240,000 was misappropriated between 2006 and 2011.
They say another $160,000 was unaccounted for.
LeClair stepped down following the initial allegations and said he was receiving treatment for a gambling addiction.
At the time, he said he did not take any money from the church to pay off gambling debts.
Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast issued a statement following the guilty plea Monday.
“Despite this difficult decision affecting Fr. LeClair’s life, I know that he is relieved to have this painful moment behind him,” said 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.”
“With Fr. LeClair, we now look to the future, understanding that the court’s decision on sentencing will be part of any future plan,” added Prendergast. “In a courageous and very public way, Fr. LeClair admitted to the addictions which were harmful to him personally and to his pastoral ministry.”
He said they continue to support LeClair in his recovery.
Joseph LeClair, former priest of Blessed Sacrement church in the Glebe, is photographed leaving the Ottawa courthouse on Monday Jan. 20, 2014. LeClair pleaded guilty after he exploited lax bookkeeping to pilfer $130,000 in church funds to fund his gambling debts, according to an agreed statement of facts read out in court. Darren Brown/Ottawa Sun/QMI Agency
A priest with a pathological gambling problem pleaded guilty Monday to fraud and theft charges after taking his church for $130,000.
Joseph Leclair, former priest of Blessed Sacrement church in the Glebe, exploited lax bookkeeping to pilfer church funds and fund his gambling debts, according to an agreed statement of facts read out in court. From 2006 to May 2011 — when he was exposed as a fraudster in the press — Leclair dipped his sticky fingers into any honeypot he could find.
Marriage preparation course money — payable in cash at $100 a course — vanished into his accounts. He routinely rounded up expenses and pocketed the difference.
He would also deposit into his account wads of $5 and $10 bills that he stole from the collection plate.
A psychiatrist diagnosed him as a “pathological gambler” and the court heard he often took out large cash advances against his credit card at casinos, particularly the Casino du Lac Leamy.
Leclair, 56, was greeted warmly by supporters as he sat in the packed courtroom.
“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,” said Ottawa Archbishop Terence Prendergast in a written statement.
“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.”
Defence lawyers have said they will call three witnesses as the sentencing hearing gets underway. The defence is expected to seek a sentence Leclair can serve in the community, while the Crown is expected to ask for jail time.
The sentencing hearing continues.
More to come.