William J. Power sentenced to nearly two years for swindling almost $600,000
Former Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. business manager William J. Power is handcuffed in provincial court in St. John’s Wednesday after he was sentenced to jail for defrauding the church out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram
As William J. Power was led away in handcuffs, his daughter buried her face in the chest of the man next to her and sobbed.
Power had just been sentenced to two years less a day in prison for defrauding the Roman Catholic church out of almost $600,000.
It will be the first time the 63-year-old will see the inside of a jailhouse.
The sentence included two years’ probation and a restitution order that requires him to pay back $489,852.71.
In all, Power swindled $589,498 from the church, but has already paid back $99,645.29.
“In effect, he abused his position,” Judge Robert Hyslop said in sentencing Power at provincial court in St. John’s Wednesday.
“He hurt his family, hurt his church and the community as a whole.”
Power took the money between 2003 and 2010, when he held the position of business manager for the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. (RCEC) of St. John’s.
Power had worked with the archdiocese for 38 years. At the time of his resignation in October 2010, his annual salary was $108,000.
“This proved not to be enough,” Hyslop said. “He took advantage of the church’s structural weaknesses and used the trust of his employees to his personal advantage.”
Power was initially charged with more than 30 fraud and fraud-related charges, but they were condensed in three counts of fraud over $5,000. He pleaded guilty to all three.
The first count related to 316 unauthorized cheques, which Power issued payable to himself for a total of $418,436.
In addition to his regular payroll, Power was writing manual cheques to himself outside the payroll ledger and ordered his employees to credit them against the insurance balance.
While some of Power’s employees were aware of what was going on, they never questioned Power for fear they would lose their jobs. Others assumed he needed the money and would pay it back.
The second count dealt with voluntary pension contributions.
According to the agreed statement of facts, Power routinely directed his staff to credit voluntary pension contributions to his pension plan. The contributions are the sole responsibility of the employee and are normally collected through payroll dedications.
However, these amounts were never deducted from Power’s salary, nor was the RCEC reimbursed for these contributions.
As a result of the regular fraudulent contributions, the RCEC unknowingly paid $85,962 into Power’s pension plan.
The third count stemmed from mass stipends — payments to clergy where money comes from parishioners who request mass dedications for a deceased relatives.
Power cashed mass stipend cheques that he’d issued after forging the names of aging or deceased priests, and priests who had moved out of the country.
“This is money that came from (parishioners), from their heart as charitable donations to the church,” Hyslop said.
Power’s fraudulent activity was uncovered during a 2010 audit by the accounting firm Ernst & Young, which discovered that in 2009 Power had paid himself $33,000.
When Archbishop Martin Currie confronted Power about it, he admitted what he had done and resigned.
But it prompted further examination, which discovered more of Power’s fraudulent activity.
The RNC economic crime unit began investigating the case in January, when the archdiocese first laid a formal complaint.
Hyslop went along with the jail sentence for Power as a result of an agreement made between Crown prosecutor Lloyd Strickland and defence lawyer Gerry O’Brien.
Strickland said it was an appropriate sentence and compared Power’s crimes to those of the former MHAs, but especially former provincial government business manager Bill Murray, who were all convicted of swindling constituency money. Most got jail time.
Strickland called it a serious breach of trust.
“These crimes were carried out by the very person entrusted to oversee (the church’s finances) …,” said Strickland, who added there was an extent of deviousness to Power’s actions.
“It became almost routine for Mr. Power to steal from his employer.”
But Strickland pointed out that the real victims in Power’s crimes were parishioners.
“We can’t lose sight that most of the money he took was generated by the parish, by people who attend church regularly.”
When contacted by The Telegram Tuesday, Archbishop Martin Currie said he was relieved the ordeal was finally over.
“It’s been a time of tension,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be a time of relief for Mr. Power and his family, and also for our staff and for the Catholic community at large.”
He said what Power did had a huge impact on the entire community, but is confident there won’t be lasting effects on the church.
“The church is about service. We have an obligation to be good stewards of the moneys that are given to us ... because we try to use our money to serve people,” he said.
On a personal note, Currie said he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness.
“This is very difficult for me …,” he said. “Back in Jan. 1, 2009, Mr. Power saved my life from carbon monoxide poisoning. So, I find this very difficult.
“But as bishop, I have an obligation to the people who contribute ... I have a responsibility to them.”