Priest sentenced to 27 months for half-million dollar fraud

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published December 2, 2015

 Rev. Edward Belczak

Rev. Edward Belczak

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He didn’t wear his clerical collar because he said the archdiocese asked him not to.

Rev. Edward Belczak, 70, dressed in a suit coat and shirt without a tie, was sentenced to serve 27 months in prison Dec. 1.

U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Tarnow handed down the sentence after Belczak spoke. Belczak was also ordered to serve two years of parole and pay $572,775 in restitution, and to forfeit his condo in Florida, and funds in Merrill Lynch and TD Ameritrade accounts.

Although a dozen letters were written to Tarnow in support of Belczak and supporters, including Catholic priests, were in the courtroom, no one but Belczak and the attorneys spoke before the sentencing.

Belczak pleaded guilty to devising and executing a scheme to steal $572,775 from St. Thomas More Church over several years and creating yearly false financial reports that were mailed to the Archdiocese of Detroit that concealed his theft of the money for his own benefit.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Eastern District of Michigan, Belczak admitted that in March 2005 he used $109,570.80 from St. Thomas More’s bank account to pay the down payment on a Florida condominium. According to court records, in April and May 2006 Belczak diverted two checks totaling $420,200 payable to St. Thomas More from the estate of a deceased parishioner.

Belczak entered into a plea agreement that stipulated a sentence of between 33 and 41 months, and he agreed to pay $572,775 in restitution to St. Thomas More Church.

Belczak served as pastor of St. Thomas More for 29 years. In a statement, the Archdiocese of Detroit said that Belczak is restricted from all public ministry and from presenting himself as a priest, and now that he he has been sentenced, the archdiocese plans to resume proceedings against him under canon (church) law.

Ned McGrath, director of communications for the archdiocese, said in a prepared statement that “the archdiocese fully respects the judicial process and its findings. There is a lot of hurt resulting from this crime, a lot of wounded people. We continue to pray for healing at the parish and for all those impacted, including Fr. Belczak.”

Before his stint at St. Thomas More, Belczak served at the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak and Our Lady of Sorrows in Farming ton Hills.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frances Carlson recommended a sentence of 37 months.

“It needs to reflect the seriousness of offense,” Carlson said of Belczak’s sentence.

She said that Belczak stole from the parish for many, many years, opened unauthorized accounts and took checks made out to the church and deposited them into his personal accounts to support his lifestyle and maintain his Florida condo.

“He stopped because he got caught,” Carlson said.

“I believe the character of the individual should weigh heavily,” said Belczak’s attorney, Jerome Sabbota. “People support him.”
Sabbota said that the church grew by leaps and bounds under Belczak’s leadership.

“People like to be with him. He was a famous priest.”

He said a felony conviction was a great humiliation for Belczak, and that home confinement and parole would have the same result as prison.
“He lost everything he had. What he did was wrong. We’re asking for probation or home confinement so he can continue to administer to other people. People still come to him.”

“I fully accept all responsibility for my actions,” Belczak said. “The shame at times is unbearable. I lost sight of everything I’ve ever wanted. I lost sight of what was important. I was selfish and stole money that didn’t belong to me. I became a drinker and gambler and skirted responsibilities to the families.”

He explained that his gambling entailed playing the stock market after an initial investment he made that did very well.

“I took money from the church to double it. I wanted to be like all the people I served and have the lifestyle. In trying to be like them, I lost everything.

“The guilt and embarrassment is so overwhelming, sometimes I believe I would be better off dead. I caused a deep wound throughout the diocese.”

“I do look at your past performance. This is your first offense,” Tarnow said.

He said the sentence must serve as a “general deterrence” to others.

“It’s important to compare you to other white collar criminals. You’re a leader. You’re responsible for what you did. I don’t think you’re going to do this again. The archdiocese will not give you that opportunity.”

He said that mental health counseling in prison was indicated because of Belczak’s reference to suicide.

Sabbotta said that because of the time stipulation of the plea agreement, Belczak will not appeal the sentence.

“I think 27 months is a little high,” Sabbotta said, adding that he believes a year and a half at a halfway house would have been appropriate. “He’s a good man. He lost his way,” Sabbotta said.

“The actions taken by Mr. Belczak represent a shocking betrayal of the faith and trust the public places in our clergy,” FBI Special Agent in Charge David Gelios said in a prepared statement. “Secular or otherwise, the FBI is committed to the investigation of anyone who abuses their position for personal gain.”

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