Posted: Jul 3, 2012 9:40 PM ET
Last Updated: Jul 3, 2012 9:38 PM ET
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 five 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.
LeClair, who left the parish in May 2011, was released on Tuesday with a promise to appear in court on July 25.
Former Blessed Sacrament Pastor Facing Theft, Fraud Charges
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
The former Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Ottawa, Fr. Joe LeClair has been charged with fraud and theft related to parish expenses, alleged misappropriation of funds, and furniture taken from the rectory when he left the parish.
After an internal investigation, the Ottawa Catholic Archdiocese asked police to investigate concerns about financial transactions, a lack of accountability for thousands of dollars in cheques written on the church accounts, and other concerns.
The subsequent Ottawa Police Organized Fraud investigation – that covered a review period from January 2006 to May 2011 – found that over $240,000 in the form of cheques from the Parish were misappropriated. Police also say over $160,000 in cash revenues were unaccounted for.
Fr. LeClair is now facing one count each of Fraud over $5000 section 380(1)(a), Theft over $5000 section 334(a), Criminal Breach of Trust section 336 and Laundering Proceeds of Crime section 462.31 of the Criminal Code.
Fr. LeClair admitted he had battled depression, and a gambling addiction, but told parishioners he used only his own funds to pay for his gambling losses.
The 55-year old priest is to appear in Ottawa court on July 25th.