Former Ottawa parish priest charged with fraud

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CBC News

Posted: Jul 3, 2012 9:40 PM ET

Last Updated: Jul 4, 2012 9:48 AM ET

Joe LeClair stepped down in May 2011 as the parish priest at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Ottawa.

Joe LeClair stepped down in May 2011 as the parish priest at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Ottawa. (CBC)

A popular former Ottawa Catholic priest who stepped down amid allegations he had misappropriated church funds has been charged with fraud and theft over $5,000.

Ottawa police charged Joseph LeClair, 55, on Tuesday with one count each of fraud over $5,000 and theft over $5,000, as well as criminal breach of trust and laundering proceeds of crime.

LeClair, who originally hails from Prince Edward Island, had attracted a following in his 13 years at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Ottawa’s Glebe neighbourhood and had a reputation as a charismatic speaker and community leader.

But the Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa launched an audit of the church, following a report that LeClair had racked up large credit card bills, as well as the discovery that the church had few financial controls.

Police said the archdiocese filed a complaint in August after they completed their audit.

Fraud investigators looked at the period between January 2006 and May 2011 and allege that more than $240,000 in the form of cheques from the parish were misappropriated by LeClair.

Police also allege that $160,000 in cash revenues were unaccounted for, while about $20,000 in furniture and household items belonging to the parish were taken from the rectory when LeClair left.

A portion of those items were recovered at a residence outside of Ontario, police said.

Priests under more scrutiny, archbishop says

LeClair, who left the parish in May 2011, was released on Tuesday with a promise to appear in court on July 25.

The archdiocese commented via a statement released Wednesday, saying they have reviewed how they monitor priests.

“The events concerning Fr. LeClair which have come to light over the past year have obliged us to review our expectations of priests, as well as our care of them,” said Rev. Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.

“The events of the past year have also led our archdiocese to institute a new protocol for the financial administration of our parishes. The protocol calls for greater controls, accountability and review.”

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