Gambling priest gets probation for theft from White Plains church

| January 13, 2010

WHITE PLAINS — The Rev. Patrick Dunne said in court Tuesday that he gambled $432,000 from the bank accounts of his city parish, thinking he would repay it all when he "hit it big."

He didn't win the jackpot, but he won't serve any jail time for committing grand larceny against Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church.

A state justice sentenced Dunne, a 65-year-old career priest, to five years' probation, community service and time served — a few hours in jail shortly after he surrendered in May 2008.

Dunne apologized for his actions before he was sentenced, saying he had a "serious gambling problem and addiction." He said he had hoped to raise money for the church through gambling but ended up only betraying his parishioners.

"I lost the parish I truly loved. I let them down," he said. "I am truly sorry for what I have done. I can only ask you for your forgiveness."

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York's insurance company has covered the loss.

Dunne pleaded guilty Oct. 20 to the top count against him, second-degree grand larceny, and was promised no more than six months in the county jail at that time. The felony charge is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Since the plea, more than 250 parishioners and other supporters sent letters asking the judge not to send Dunne to jail. The Westchester County Department of Probation, in its presentencing report, also asked for no jail time.

Bishop Dennis Sullivan, the vicar general of the archdiocese, gave a victim's impact statement in which he condemned Dunne's actions, saying he caused unnecessary suffering to the parishioners of Our Lady of Sorrows.

"He also caused suffering to the diocese, to the image of the Catholic priesthood, to his family and to himself," he said.

Sullivan praised Dunne, however, as a "good shepherd" who was a dedicated, tireless, energetic servant to his parish who was "caught by demons floating in his heart and soul."

State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Cohen, who presided over Dunne's case as a county judge, returned Tuesday to sentence him.

Cohen said there was no question Dunne devoted his life to his parishioners, but he violated their trust. He said sending Dunne to jail would serve no purpose.

Prosecutors said the thefts started in 2002, as Our Lady of Sorrows was planning a multimillion-dollar building project.

Parishioners contributed almost $3 million for the project, which was completed in 2006 and tripled the size of the church.

In 2007, staff members at the church alerted the archdiocese about undocumented checks that they noticed were being cashed on church accounts.

Authorities said Dunne wrote and endorsed checks to himself and to "cash," and then deliberately concealed records relating to the parish development account.

In court Tuesday, Dunne said he first started gambling with the parish building fund and later tapped into the Mass stipend accounts. He gambled at Atlantic City casinos and on lottery tickets.

"I had a hard time using the word 'steal,' but that's what I did," he said.

Dunne had been pastor of the Mamaroneck Avenue church since 1991. He has been suspended for more than a year but will return to duty soon.

His lawyer, Richard Ferrante, himself a parishioner of the church, said Dunne has been treated for his gambling addiction and wants to resume helping others.

Joseph Zwilling, spokes-man for the archdiocese, said Dunne is expected to live at a Dutchess County church, but will have a different priestly assignment that has not yet been finalized.

Cohen ordered Dunne to have no dealings with church finances while he is on probation and to perform 250 hours of community service outside of the church.

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Category: Church Security

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