Former RC church business manager jailed

Rosie Gillingham and Colin MacLean
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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.”

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

 cmaclean@thetelegram.com

Organizations: RCEC, RC church, Episcopal Ernst Young

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Recent comments

  • Pam Frampton
    December 09, 2011 - 08:02

    Joseph McGrath: The recent changes to the Roman Catholic liturgy were reported upon in Gerry Phelan's Dec. 2 column in The Telegram.

  • jthomas
    December 08, 2011 - 14:01

    I wonder where all the religious people get off on judging others . The man did the crime and admitted to it and serves his punishment. Case closed. Just because you go to church doesn't make you any better than anyone else. He did save a life by risking his own,more than most of you have ever done i'm sure.

  • Jeremiah
    December 08, 2011 - 13:03

    I wonder will any money repaid go to the victims of church sexual abuse? Maybe not, there is such a great need for more gold finish for the basicila.

  • Marg
    December 08, 2011 - 12:36

    Taylor and Joseph McGrath, Face Reality. One mistake anyone can overlook, but this theft went on over and over for a long period of time and it was an enormous amount. Somewhere along the way he could have felt some kind of remorse and stopped stealing. He was supposedly a man of trust in his position with the church. You're both obviously staunch Catholics (I am Catholic), but that does not diminish the severity of what this man did.

    • Joseph McGrath
      December 08, 2011 - 14:50

      Marg,I do not disagree with you as every person on this earth has a right to freedom of expression and I therefore assume you too are doing your best to deal with the difficult events that have occured within the Church.Each has their own moral compass to follow.In essence I am just saying that Our Church is far from perfect. There will always be mistakes, even travesties that we will weep over and work to correct with God’s grace. As long as people are flawed, there will always be problems to overcome. But Jesus has promised us that even the gates of hell will not prevail against us. He has given us His body for food and we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and our Blessed Mother to aid and comfort us. We have everything we need, if we will only be true to Christ instead of this world.Unfortunately in society today most find it easier to be true to the world and quietly not take a public stand.That way will never be my way.Cheap shots by unknown anti Catholic posters can be found in the many areas of the internet and all the different souces of Social and other MEDIA in today's world.Sensational media has but one objective and that is to sell its product and increase it's subscribers.That leads to sensational ,repeative reporting with the bottom line being the almight dollar.When was the last time a good RC institution,a good church deed or a giving and caring church program was covered by the MEDIA????Long ago I suspect and don't hold your breath.For example recent changes to the MASS have occurred and has never been mentioned but let something go wrong and the boys and girls in the media rooms are fast out the gates ,armed with their bigot manuals #101.To be a believer is just not in vogue today and that is so pityful indeed. As an aside the Telegram was once a newpaper one was pleased to sit and read after supper but alas no more.The tourch of that institution has been passed to a new breed who value the dollar far more than good journalism.Bet this is not posted??House rules you know???

    • Taylor
      December 09, 2011 - 09:51

      Marg, I haven't been to church in years, and last going off it was the United Church I attended. The point of my argument was that his sentence was not light because of his affiliation with the Catholic Church, as Ed Byrne received the same sentence. I guess the goernment was just as lax as his theft was not a one time deal either. I am just expressing the fact that there are too many generalizations made based on someone's association with one faith and it is a form of discrimination. I was by no means diminishing what he did, or the fac that he should be punished, nor was I implying that it was too harsh a sentence- just that he didn't get off any easier because of his association with the Church.

  • Derek
    Derek
    December 08, 2011 - 11:48

    @MIKE - it's not refreshing to see anyone on the receiving end of criminal activity. And every offence perpetrated by unfaithful members of the Catholic Church has been received by faithful members of the Church. it's not felt even in a remotely similar degree to that incurred by the victims themselves, but I feel it frequently when I am on the receiving end of vitriolic generalizations about all Catholics because of the crimes perpetrated by a few (though too many) that occurred when I was a child or not even born. Those individuals who committed crimes are disgusting, but it's hateful and disgusting that you paint a Church of a billion baptised with the same brush.

  • harry
    December 08, 2011 - 11:15

    he gotthe help he needed 600.000dollarsx worth do u think he wiill repay no he will say its all goneeeeeeeeeeeeeee lol

  • jaydee
    December 08, 2011 - 10:30

    I'm glad Mr Power received jail time however I feel he didn't receive a long enough sentence. Shame on you Mr Power for the disgrace you have brought on your family!!!

  • Taylor
    December 08, 2011 - 10:29

    I don't consider two years in prison a slap on the wrist. Ed Byrne got the same sentence, and he was not acting on behalf of the Catholic Church. I don't think the Cathholic Church had anything to do with the crime or it's sentence, and am offended at the inference.

    • Eli
      December 08, 2011 - 15:07

      Ed Byrne got the same sentence? Depends where it's being served. Good ol' Eddie got a vacation pad in Central Newfoundland. Looks like Power goes to Her Majesty's jug. Regardless, both should have been put away for at least 10 years. Both stole big time!

  • Mike
    December 08, 2011 - 10:20

    It's somewhat refreshing to see the Catholic church on the receiving end of criminal activity for a change.

  • Joseph McGrath
    December 08, 2011 - 10:08

    I actually feel sad for Mr.Power as his life is now in tattered shambles.However he stole big time and the sentence was somewhat small considering the facts..The Archbishop ,the clergy and the parishioners etc. have all been wronged by this man's actions.As a practicing Roman Catholic I am moving on with the faithful within our RC church and keeping my eyes focused on the Cross rather than the missteps within our Church that have come forward over the past several decades.Really that is all one can do and that is to follow Christ through the Roman Catholic Faith knowing fully it is the only way I will live beyond the grave.The beauty of the Eucharist and Confession means far more to me then those who have turned so violently against all the RC church teaches.Each person has to make their own faith decisions but mine have in no way been lessened.I will support the RC church untill the day I die and wish the Archbishop,priests,nuns,brothers,lay volunters etc etc the very best as they labor in spreading the Gospel.Members of the Roman Catholic Church belong to the one true,holy and apostolic Church which follows the teachings of Christ since the day he revealed them to the Apostles and commanded them to spread the "GOSPELS"of good news.I note the Telegram has at least three news stories in less than a day on this case and the bias of that print media is beyond words.Next up the sentence to Lahey and then into the anti Christmas rants of reporters on rental from the cheap seat section of the local Press Club.To everyone a "HAPPY"and "HOLY CHRISTMAS"regardless of your religious beliefs.BTW I suspect this e-mail will not be shown by the TELYas it against their policy no doubt????

  • Absolutely Pitiful
    December 08, 2011 - 08:20

    And once again another shameful criminal of the Catholic Church gets off with a gentle slap on the wrist.

    • Joseph McGrath
      December 08, 2011 - 10:15

      People like "Absolutely Pitiful "have a right to their oponions but is would be well to remember the matter of who casts the first stone.A very HOLY CHRISTMAS TO YOU "Absolutely Pitiful "

    • christian forgiveness where
      December 08, 2011 - 14:06

      Where is the forgiveness that the church preaches so often. You forgive perverts who molested children but not someone who took money? This man is paying his price for what he did and you are not entitled to judge him ,just the man upstairs !

  • Shocked
    December 08, 2011 - 07:09

    And the church never missed this amount of money??? I thought all churches were desperate for money to keep them going, I guess I was wrong. Shame on you sir. Hope you get the help you need.