Priest accused of embezzlement appears in court

| February 2, 2010

A priest managed over three years to take about $200,000 from two Crawford County parishes and the Diocese of La Crosse for goods and money for Nigeria before he was caught, according to the criminal complaint filed Monday.

The Rev. Robert Chukwu, 59, appeared Monday in Crawford County Circuit Court in Prairie du Chien on a charge of theft from a business setting in excess of $10,000 and was released on a $25,000 signature bond. He is not allowed to possess a passport or leave the state.

Chukwu, who had been assigned to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Gays Mills and St. Phillip’s Catholic Church in Soldiers Grove, sent money to priests, a nun, a school and family in Nigeria between Jan. 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2009, according to the complaint.

Chukwu, who holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Nigeria, also spent $6,000 to buy and mail to Nigeria a 40-foot container filled with $100,000 in artificial flowers, candlesticks, pedestal tables and other merchandise, the complaint stated.

The items were purchased with the parish’s debit card using insurance money for damages to the churches caused by the 2007 flood, according to the complaint. Chukwu also made cash withdrawals from the debit card to ship money to Nigeria.

He said the items were resold in Nigeria. A “stack” of Nigerian money was discovered in the parsonage, according to the complaint, and he had spent $50,000 more filling another container.

A La Crosse accounting firm discovered $105,000 in unauthorized debit card charges and $91,000 in improper disbursements by Chukwu over the three years, according to the complaint. Diocese attorney Jim Birnbaum informed the Crawford County District Attorney’s office Jan. 15.

Chukwu, who since has been transferred to La Crosse, has a preliminary hearing set for Feb. 15.

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Category: Church Security

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