Ex-Cheektowaga priest avoids prison for stealing from church

| October 6, 2009

Suspended Catholic priest F. Norman Sullivan, spared a prison term Monday for his theft of $213,732 from a Cheektowaga parish, told the judge he is "truly sorry" and "disgraced and embarrased."

Sullivan, who had been the pastor at the former Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, avoided jail because he has repaid the money he stole.

State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia ordered him to perform 1,000 hours of community service while he is on probation for the next five years and to pay $375 in court fees. Noting that Sullivan owns property outside Western New York, the judge also prohibited him from leaving the area without permission from the court or probation officials.

Buscaglia noted that officials of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo had made no sentencing recommendation, likely because they are "in the business of forgiving."

The judge also noted that Erie County Probation Department officials had recommended he make Sullivan perform only 200 hours of community service, not the 1,000 he ordered. He added that this was Sullivan’s "first problem of any sort" with the law "and likely the last."

John C. Doscher, chief of the district attorney’s Special Investigations Bureau, confirmed for the judge that Sullivan has fully repaid the stolen funds.

Sullivan owns a home on nine wooded acres in Colden, a condominium at the Estero Beach & Tennis Club in Fort Myers, Fla., and another condo in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He had faced a possible seven-year prison term on his guilty plea for the church thefts, which included taking money from the weekly collection plate.

After the sentencing, District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said his office had to retain a forensic accountant to fully track Sullivan’s thefts, which were made possible by the fact that the priest had counted all of the collection plate money himself.

Noel Bartlo, Sullivan’s attorney, told the judge his client made "one huge mistake" in an otherwise "good life" and remains more concerned about his eventual spiritual sentence.

The suspended cleric, who remains barred from dressing as a priest or performing any of the rites of the church, was addressed by the judge as "Mr. Sullivan."

Sullivan, 74, pleaded guilty July 16 to third-degree grand larceny for his thefts from the Cheektowaga parish from May 2000 to January 2008.

The criminal probe was sparked by two anonymous tips the district attorney’s office received.

Since 2004, the district attorney’s office has prosecuted at least five other embezzlements from local Catholic parishes and schools, ranging from $230,000 to $488,000.



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Category: Church Security

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