Las Vegas Catholic priest Kevin McAuliffe admitted to stealing $650,000 from church funds during a court hearing Friday.
McAuliffe, 58, took the money over a period of eight years from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church. The money was quietly taken from funds for votive candles, mission, and the gift shop, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The priest pleaded guilty Friday in the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas to three counts of mail fraud, U.S. attorney Daniel Bogden said. He could face up to 60 years in federal prison and $750,000 in fines at sentencing hearing, set for Jan. 6.
"The diocese and parish have been cooperating fully with federal authorities," diocese Bishop Joseph Pepe said in a statement. He said the church administrators were "fully engaged in the handling of this matter internally."
The catholic priest, who was second to Las Vegas Bishop Joseph Pepe, is listed on the Diocese website as “on administrative leave.” He was been relieved of Diocese duties four months ago.
His attorney, Margaret Stanish, said that her client is sorry for the hurt he caused, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.
McAuliffe has been parish priest at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church since 1997. The parish is one of the largest church congregations in Nevada, with more than 10,000 families.
Parishioners of the church were ready to forgive McAuliffe and even felt initially that he could have used the money to help out needy people. When his gambling addition was revealed, they were sympathetic to his habit.
Robert Ragan 27, who met McAuliffe in gambling addiction treatment program in June, said he bonded with the priest over their addiction to video poker. Ragan attributed his recovery process to the priest and said that he had given him a Bible and told him about spirituality. “Everybody looked up to him. He has a lot of insight,” Ragan said, according to the Journal.
He was confident about the priest’s recovery and said that he had talked to him last week. "He's staying positive about everything," Ragan said. "He's in acceptance, which is a great place to be. All he can do is move forward and make amends."
McAuliffe’s attorney, Stanish, said the priest wanted to talk about the addiction and help others around him from ruining their lives and families, but she had stopped him till the case was resolved.
Stanish said McAuliffe worries about St. Elizabeth and its parishioners. "He knows he let them down," she said. "Believe me; he knows he let them down."
U.S. attorney Bogden said that the former vicar general of Las Vegas diocese hid his moves by under reporting the income of the parish. He was privy to finances of the diocese as he was a signatory to the financial statements of 2008, 2009 and 2010, which were sent to the Catholic Archdiocese in San Francisco, said Bogden. He served on the Las Vegas Diocese financial committee.
The catholic priest could serve six decades behind bars for the fraud, but his attorney said it was unlikely given that McAuliffe has no prior criminal record and federal prosecutors have indicated they will seek a term on the lower end of federal sentencing guidelines. She said her client could face about 33 months sentence and might even get probation, but she also admitted that stealing such a vast sum over nearly a decade did not bode well for her client.