Priest pleads in theft case

| July 15, 2010

A Catholic priest accused of embezzling about $200,000 from two Crawford County parishes and the Diocese of La Crosse entered an Alford plea to reduced charges Wednesday.

The Rev. Robert Chukwu, 59, made the plea in Crawford County Circuit Court to three counts of misdemeanor theft and entered an 18-month deferred prosecution agreement, said Jim Birnbaum, attorney for the La Crosse Diocese. The plea means Chukwu admits no wrongdoing but concedes a jury likely would have found him guilty.

Two of the three charges will be dismissed after 18 months if Chukwu obeys all conditions, Birnbaum said. A restitution amount will be determined at a later hearing.

A felony theft charge filed Jan. 29 accused Chukwu of sending money to priests, a nun, a school and family in Nigeria from 2007 to 2009, according to the complaint. He holds dual U.S. and Nigerian citizenship and had been assigned to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Gays Mills and St. Phillip’s Catholic Church in Soldiers Grove.

Chukwu spent $6,000 in 2008 to buy and mail a 40-foot container filled with $100,000 in artificial flowers, candlesticks, pedestal tables and other merchandise to Nigeria for profit, the complaint stated. Chukwu spent $50,000 filling another shipment.

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

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Category: Church Security