Former pastor charged with theft of church funds

| April 3, 2010

Waukesha – The former pastor of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Brookfield was charged Friday with the theft of $9,300 in church funds, according to a criminal complaint.

Leonard Van Vlaenderen, 51, of Cudahy is accused of obtaining repayment from the church for computer equipment that had been purchased in March 2006 and August 2006 with a parishioner's credit card but returned for refunds, according to a criminal complaint filed in Waukesha County Circuit Court.

He also is accused in the complaint of using church funds to purchase a computer in March 2004 that was given to a Chicago resident, the complaint states.

Van Vlaenderen has been under scrutiny since his arrest in December 2007 on a misdemeanor charge of possessing cocaine. He was convicted of that charge in 2008 and spent a year on probation.

The church began reviewing its finances in December 2007, shortly after the arrest of Van Vlaenderen, who arrived at the church in 2002.

An audit that the church conducted showed that the church lost nearly $128,000 over three years in thefts of cash from its weekly collections, and the audit found a correlation between the missing money and the tenure of Van Vlaenderen.

The church disclosed the findings of the audit in a January 2009 letter from pastor Father Kenneth P. Knippel to parishioners. At the time, Knippel said the church's self-insurer, Catholic Mutual Group, reimbursed the parish for $120,000 of the losses.

According to the complaint filed Friday, the parishioner told Brookfield police that Van Vlaenderen had asked her to make computer equipment purchases and she used her credit card to buy the merchandise at Brookfield stores on March 18, March 20 and Aug. 30 of 2006. The purchases totaled $5,971.66, according to the complaint.

Within several days of making the purchases, Van Vlaenderen told the woman to return the equipment.

But Van Vlaenderen used receipts from the purchases to request reimbursement from the church, the complaint says.

The parishioner told police she had no idea Van Vlaenderen planned to seek reimbursement.

The computer given to the Chicago resident was purchased at the Apple store at Mayfair Mall for $3,369.70, the complaint says.

Police spoke with the Chicago resident who told them he was shopping with Van Vlaenderen on March 17, 2004, at the mall and Van Vlaenderen gave him the computer as a gift, the complaint says.

The Chicago man said he did not have any relationship with St. John Vianney Church and did not know Van Vlaenderen was a priest, the complaint says.

Van Vlaenderen is charged with one count of felony theft and faces up to three years in prison if convicted. He is scheduled to appear in court on April 21.

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Category: Church Security