Michigan Catholic Priest Edward Belczak Pleaded Guilty To Mail Fraud After Pilfering $573,000 In Church Funds
Father Edward Belczak may have come to St. Thomas More Catholic Church in the posh Detroit suburb Troy a wide eyed idealist priest in 1984 but in late 2013, he was escorted out of the church in handcuffs by U.S. Marshals and charged with mail fraud for embezzling $573,000 from the church treasury that was used to buy a condo in Florida.
On Tuesday, Belczak’s pleaded guilty to a single count of mail fraud which was reduced from the original six counts related to embezzlement and fraud as part of a plea deal.
The guilty plea for mail fraud came more than 2 1/2 years after the Archdiocese of Detroit removed him as pastor of St. Thomas More after an audit of church finances raised evidence of financial irregularities involving several hundred thousand dollars.
Trouble began in 2006 after a late parishioner bequeathed $420,000 to the parish in 2006 from her trust because Belzak officiated at her funeral.
Belczak then opened a private account under the name of “St. Thomas More c/o Edward Belczak” to deposit the bequest money.
Belczak defended his actions by claiming the money was for him. He told the court, “I always thought the money was for me,”
This defense didn’t sit well with Assistant U.S. Attorney Frances Carlson who scoffed at Belczak’s explanation by explaining to the judge that if Belczak hadn’t opened the private account, “you couldn’t have cashed the check…because it was made payable to the church?”
As part of his guilty plea for mail fraud, Belczak admitted that he withdrew $109,570 from the St. Thomas More bank account in 2005 to buy a $500,000 Florida condo, which he must now forfeit, from St. Thomas More’s parish manager Janice Verschuren. Vershuren was also charged with theft from the church in an unrelated matter. Her case is still pending.
Federal Prosecutors said another parishioner gave $10,000 annually to the parish from 2008 to 2011 “for the needs of the church” and Belczak also deposited that for his own personal use and benefit.