P.E.I. priest sentenced to one year in jail

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The Guardian (PEI)

Published on March 19, 2014

Father Joseph LeClair announced during Easter weekend masses that he will be leaving Blessing Sacrament Parish in Ottawa in this Guardian file photo. LeClair has been sentenced to one year in jail for stealing money from his own church.

One time popular priest Father Joseph LeClair, originally from Tignish, stole more than $130,000 from Ottawa area church

OTTAWA —  A Prince Edward Island priest who stole more than $130,000 from an Ottawa church, will be spending one year behind bars.

Father Joseph LeClair, of Tignish, Prince Edward Island, is the former pastor of Blessed Sacrament in the Glebe area of Ottawa.

The Ottawa Citizen is reporting that Ontario Court Justice Jack Nadelle delivered the decision in court Wednesday morning.

LeClair pleaded guilty on Jan. 20, 2014 to theft and fraud more than a year after the Ottawa Citizen raised concerns about financial irregularities at the church and LeClair’s gambling.

The newspaper discovered that 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 Ottawa Citizen also discovered that Blessed Sacrament had few controls on the way in which church money was handled.

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.

LeClair’s lawyer, Matthew Webber, had argued his client should be given a conditional sentence of between 18 to 24 months.

Assistant Crown attorney Peter Napier had 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’s brother is Neil LeClair, a former West Prince MLA and cabinet minister in Premier Robert Ghiz’s government.

In a statement issued in July 2012, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast called the news that LeClair had been charged a “sad day for our local church in Ottawa.”

“Many people, in our Catholic community and beyond, will be hurt and disappointed by this news. 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,” Prendergast wrote.

“We have been reminded that we priests are in a position of trust with respect to the people whom we pastor. That trust includes proper and transparent administration of money and other temporal goods given to us by parishioners and other donors. 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.”

(Meghan Hurley is a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen)

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