The Ottawa Citizen
Photograph by: PAT McGRATH , THE OTTAWA CITIZEN
OTTAWA — Father Joseph LeClair will learn his fate in court Wednesday when Ontario Court Justice Jack Nadelle sentences the former Blessed Sacrament pastor for stealing more than $130,000 from his church.
LeClair’s lawyer, Matthew Webber, argued that his client should be given a conditional sentence between 18 to 24 months.
Assistant Crown attorney Peter Napier argued that LeClair committed the “highest level of breach of trust” when he stole money from Blessed Sacrament in a “large-scale fraud” that warrants jail time in the 18-month range.
LeClair pleaded guilty on Jan. 20 to theft and fraud more than a year after the Citizen raised concerns about financial irregularities at the church in early 2011.
Two days after LeClair pleaded guilty, he told court that he was “painfully ashamed” that he breached the trust of the parish he cared for and is “deeply remorseful” for stealing from his church.
LeClair apologized and pleaded with Nadelle to spare him from jail so he can continue with his treatment for alcohol and gambling addictions.
“However, I fully accept responsibility for the wrongs I have committed and accept whatever consequences should befall me,” LeClair said.
The path to crime was rooted in LeClair’s narcissistic personality, a “low capacity for frustration, a high need for immediate gratification and a tendency toward impulsivity,” according to a report written by Dr. Julian Gojer, a Toronto psychiatrist.
LeClair was on anti-depressants for anxiety and was obsessed with his work when he was transferred to Blessed Sacrament Church 15 years ago.
By reaching out to the community, LeClair began to build a parish out of almost nothing.
The church began to grow and soon the number of parishioners went up tenfold.
LeClair began to feel stretched too thin, which caused his anxiety to manifest in a tingling feeling on his face and a burning sensation in his mouth and on his tongue, Gojer’s report said.
It was sometime after LeClair’s anxiety heightened that he began to drink, eventually consuming between six to eight scotches every night.
Added to his problem drinking in 2008 was frequent gambling at the Casino du Lac-Leamy.
The debt he incurred on his credit card at the casino was paid off by stealing from the church. LeClair thought he was invincible and beyond reproach, the report said.
“He deep down, however, knew that what he was doing was wrong, but had blinded himself to the fact that he was also breaking the law,” Gojer wrote.
Concerns about LeClair’s gambling and the financial irregularities at Blessed Sacrament were first raised by the Citizen in an article published in April 2011.
It revealed Leclair had incurred $490,000 in personal credit card bills during the years 2009 and 2010. More than $137,000 of those credit card charges were the result of advances taken at Casino du Lac-Leamy.
The Citizen also discovered that Blessed Sacrament had few controls on the way in which church money was handled.
Leclair had the ability to write cheques to himself without receipts, Sunday collections were kept in an unlocked rectory office and often not counted for days, and the church’s finance committee did not meet to review financial statements.
A new financial protocol introduced by the archdiocese included a raft of checks and balances to ensure donations are properly collected, spent and accounted for by church officials.
Ottawa police began an investigation into financial irregularities at the church after an audit was conducted by the firm, Deloitte and Touche.
The 11-month police investigation that covered the period from January 2006 to May 2011 ended in July 2012 when LeClair was charged with fraud, theft, money laundering and breach of trust.