23 January 2014
Mike Carroccetto/Metro Head down, Father Joe LeClair leaves the Elgin St. courthouse moments after reading a tearful statement to the judge at the end of his sentencing hearing in Ottawa on Wednesday, January 22, 2014. LeClair pled guilty to fraud and breach of trust earlier in the week, and has admitted to alcohol and gambling addictions.
In 55 days disgraced former Blessed Sacrament Church priest, Father Joe LeClair, will learn whether or not he’ll spend time behind bars for defrauding his church of $130,000.
Ontario Court Justice Jack Nadelle set March 19 – St. Joseph’s Day – as the day he’ll rule whether LeClair should serve 18 months of jail or an 18-24 month conditional sentence house arrest sentence.
LeClair, 56, pleaded guilty Monday to theft and fraud.
Crown prosecutor Peter Napier is urging two years’ probation in addition to jail time.
In a third day of submissions Wednesday, Napier argued the most aggravating element of the case is the severe breach of trust LeClair committed against his church and the Archdiocese.
“The sole motivation in this case was greed,” said Napier. “The fraudster is afforded a daily opportunity to stop their crimes.”
But LeClair’s lawyer, Matthew Webber, argued a conditional sentence is still an option. Crafted properly, a sentence served in the community can still be a deterent, he said.
Webber spent three days arguing LeClair’s self control was “compromised” by alcohol and gambling addictions, which were outlined in a psychiatric assessment by Dr. Julian A.C. Gojer.
The 16-page report delves into LeClair’s life as a popular and well-regarded priest whose good intentions clash with a series of covert schemes to steal money from the church and parishioners.
Ultimately, a whistleblower outed him to The Ottawa Citizen, which published an article in 2011 about his gambling problems, according to the report.
“He would rationalize that eventually the benefit would go to the parish and the pleasure he got was minimal and merely assuaged his anxiety,” the report read. “He deep down, however, knew that what he was doing was morally wrong but had blinded himself to the fact that he was also breaking the law.”
Father Joe apologizes:
LeClair read out an emotional apology to parishioners in court Wednesday since pleading guilty to defrauding Blessed Sacrament of $130,000 over a five-year period.
As the disgraced priest spoke with an often trembling voice, several parishioners who sat in court wiped tears from their eyes or held their heads down.
Below is a transcription of what LeClair said in his apology:
“I’m very grateful to Your Honour and the court for extending me the privilege of making this statement.
“I’d like to express how deeply remorseful I am for all that has transpired. I would like to assure Your Honour that I now fully appreciate the extreme gravity of my actions. I’ve embarrassed and humiliated the priesthood and the church. I have breached the trust in the very parish that I have cared for and continue to care about so much. As a result of my actions I have jeopardized my vocation — a vocation that truly, I believe, to be my calling. Not only did I hurt my parish and the church, but I dishonoured the priesthood at large and for this I am painfully ashamed and I pray that the church will forgive me.
“While the realization was not immediate, I now better understand that my addictions to alcohol and gambling contributed to my thoughtless and irrational behaviour. At the time I must confess I did not ever really turn my mind to the gravity of my conduct. As I reflect on these times I regard this weakness on my part as inexcusable. I was literally unable to control myself.
“I’ve come a long way in understanding my addictions and my crimes and I fully intend on continuing with my treatment as soon as I am able.
“I fully realize that the discipline necessary to overcome addiction is an ever-mindful and life-long commitment. And I’m committed to waging this fight for the rest of my life, may God grant me the grace to persevere. I pray, Your Honour, that you will feel it appropriate to impose a conditional sentence where I might continue to address my problems. However, I fully accept responsibility for the wrongs I’ve committed and accept whatever consequences should befall me.
“Again, I apologize to all, especially my parishioners that are here today, for the pain I’ve caused. It was always my hope and desire that my involvement in the lives of others would lessen or diminish hardship — not cause it. I am profoundly sorry for what I’ve done. I ask God to forgive me and to judge me as I pray that Your Honour will interpret the law of the land.
Joseph LeClair, Ottawa Priest, Pleads For No Jail After Defrauding Church Of $130,000
Posted: 01/22/2014 5:45 pm EST | Updated: 01/22/2014 9:59 pm EST
OTTAWA – A disgraced Ottawa priest who gambled away more than $100,000 in church funds at a Quebec casino pleaded Wednesday for a sentence that won’t put him in jail.
Father Joseph LeClair had pleaded guilty to charges of theft and fraud for pocketing tens of thousands of dollars from the Blessed Sacrament Church.
Court heard LeClair dipped into the collection plate regularly, and while more than $400,000 was reported missing, a plea deal agreed he defrauded the church of $130,000.
LeClair sobbed loudly as he read an apology to a courtroom packed with his parishioners, and said a gambling and alcohol addictions contributed to his reckless behaviour.
The defence says LeClair is a pathological gambler who should be given a sentence of two years less a day to be served in the community.
The Crown told the sentencing hearing that LeClair should be jailed for 18 months, followed by two years on probation.
LeClair said he takes full responsibility for his actions and asked the judge to consider the defence’s request for a sentence that won’t put his behind bars.
“I’m painfully ashamed and I pray that the church will forgive me,” he said.
Ottawa Priest Pleads Guilty to Gambling Church Money
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A Catholic priest has admitted that he stole money from Ottawa’s Blessed Sacrament church and gambled it away. At a preliminary hearing earlier this week Father Joseph LeClair pleaded guilty to fraud and theft and said that he has a gambling problem.
Over the last five years LeClair has stolen $130,000 of church money. He took $16,000 from the collection plate and thousands of dollars in fees from marriage preparation courses to pay debts he had built up at Casino Lac Leamy.
LeClair stepped down from his position in the church after media reports of his gambling problem in 2011. In July 2012 he was charged with fraud over $5,000 and theft over $5,000.
Strangely, a number of parishioners appeared in court to support LeClair, one woman was seen wiping tears from her eyes throughout the proceedings.
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast has said that the Ottawa Archdiocese will support LeClair in his recovery. In a statement Prendergast wrote, “With Fr. LeClair, we now look to the future, understanding that the court’s decision on sentencing will be part of any future plan. In a courageous and very public way, Fr. LeClair admitted to the addictions which were harmful to him personally and to his pastoral ministry.”