Priest Used $1.3 Million in Parish Money For Hotels, Male Escorts

| July 6, 2010

A well-known Roman Catholic priest who stole $1.3 million from the Sacred Heart parish over seven years said he "had grown to hate being a priest" because the Archdiocese had given him the "worst church assignments" where he would "have to fix problems made by the previous priests," according to his arrest warrant.

The Rev. Kevin J. Gray, 64, was charged with first-degree larceny. Police said he used church funds to pay for hotels, restaurant meals, clothing and male escorts. Gray turned himself in to authorities Tuesday morning and was to be arraigned in Waterbury Superior Court.

Waterbury police launched an investigation after the archdiocese came to them May 27 and said it had uncovered unauthorized payments from church funds to accounts held by Gray and other suspicious transactions, according to the affidavit, which was prepared by Waterbury Police Detective Peter Morgan.

Gray wrote checks to himself, paid off his American Express bills, allowed two men to have credit cards in their names on his account and paid for various other expenses — including tuition to Harvard and rent in New York City for a man he met in Central Park — using the church's Webster Bank account, the document states.

Gray was placed on medical leave by Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell on April 15. The priest had told people in the community he was gravely ill. No one at Sacred Heart or St. Peter and Paul Church, whose rectory Gray had been staying in, had heard from Gray since April 13.

Gray has been living with Weirui Zhong, 35, at 1427 York Ave. #3F in New York City since he left the St. Peter and Paul rectory, according to the affidavit. Gray has been paying the apartment's rent as long as Zhong has been living there — since 2005.

Gray told Zhong he was an attorney for Catholic Charities in New Haven and that he had attended Georgetown Law Schools. He also told Zhong he was being treated for colon cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Gray would come to New York on Wednesdays after 8 a.m. mass. He told Zhong he had his cancer treatments on Wednesday, the affidavit states. He would then stay a few days, returning to Waterbury in time for Saturday's 4 p.m. mass.

He told Zhong he had been laid off from his job when he moved in with Zhong.

Zhong told police in a sworn statement that Gray has also been paying his tuition at Harvard University since 2008. He said Gray bought a piano for the apartment and paid for piano lessons, took him to dinner when they were together in New York, paid for his attorney in a court case, bought dogs for the apartment and paid the veterinarian bills and gave him large sums of money for his birthday and when Gray felt he was going to die of cancer.

Zhong said he asked Gray several times why Gray was paying him with checks from the Sacred Heart Church bank account instead of Gray's personal account. Gray said he placed his life savings, including money he had earned from winning big cases as an attorney, into the church's account.

"Gray told him that because of this, he was able to use the money because it was all his," the affidavit says.

While police questioned Zhong on June 10, Gray arrived at the apartment. Zhong asked police if he could speak with Gray first. In the presence of the detectives, Zhong asked Gray if he was an attorney, if he had ever attended Georgetown, if he had colon cancer and if he had ever had cancer. To all four questions, Gray answered, "No," the affidavit states.

Gray then told police he first became bitter when the Archdiocese transferred him to Immaculate Conception Church in New Hartford in 2001 while his mother was dying in a New Haven hospital. He said he was angry that he had to commute so far a few times a week to see his mother, police said.

He was then transferred to St. Cecelia's Church in Waterbury, which closed while he was there. He called the closing a "sham."

Gray said he started taking money once he was transferred to Sacred Heart in 2003 "because he felt the church owed it to him," the affadavit states. He admitted to writing himself checks, paying his American Express bills and paying money to Zhong for his rent. He told police he used his American Express card to purchase clothes, dinners, hotel rooms and escort services.

Gray stated that he would order male escorts from Campus Escorts in New York. He said he would have the escorts meet him in hotel rooms he had rented. Gray told police that he is gay and has a problem with the church's stance on homosexuality, the affadavit says.

Since May 24, 2003, $655,936.48 worth of checks from the church funds were cashed by American Express to pay for charges to Gray's account, the affidavit states.

Charges to Gray's account between May 2003 and March 2010 included $205,679.78 to restaurants in New York, Boston and Connecticut, including several visits to New York's Tavern On The Green, Boston's Legal Seafood and New Haven's Scoozzi Trattoria and Wine Bar, the affidavit states.

Gray charged nearly $150,000 in stays at high-end hotels in New York City, Boston and New Haven, including frequent stays at The Roosevelt Hotel, the W Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria in New York, police said.

The affidavit also states that Gray opened credit card accounts in the names of Manuel Paque, a man Gray met at a male strip bar, and Islagar Labrada, a man Gray met through an escort service, on Gray's own account.

Paque charged $67,755.12 between March 2006 and November 2007 for various items, including furniture, electronics and cell phone bills, as well as $5,410 to LaGuardia Community College, police said. Gray was paying for Paque to attend nursing school but stopped paying and lost contact with Paque when Paque dropped out of nursing school to attend beautician school. Gray told police he would not pay for that, the affidavit states.

Gray also took several trips to Ecuador in the summers of 2003 through 2006 to visit Christian Baquero, police said. He said he met Baquero while he was a priest at St. Margaret's Church in Waterbury and Baquero was a parishioner. He had since moved to Ecuador. Gray told police he had sent money to Baquero in Ecuador and had flown to see him, police said.

Police found MoneyGrams sent from Gray to Baquero in the church basement. The 47 MoneyGrams totaled $16,700 and were sent to Ecuador between June 25, 2003 and Dec. 20, 2008, the affadavit says.

Labrada charged $49,998.61 to his card from June 2003 through September 2003, police said. Among his charges were almost $9,000 in Crunch Fitness Gym membership fees, a stay at a Sheraton Hotel in Buena Vista, Fl., artwork and Louis Vuitton merchandise.

Between June 2003 and May 2010, Gray also used the American Express to rack up $80,612.24 in charges at pricey clothing stores like Brooks Brothers, Barney's and Armani, the affidavit states. He charged $19,450.11 to jewelry stores, including Tiffany, and spent $22,259.71 on Apple computers, furniture and electronics.

He charged a total of $8,328.48 for airfare to several destinations for both himself and other men.

Police found that each of six charges made in 2004 and 2005 to Campus Escort service in New York, which totaled $3,280, coincided with six hotel transaction dates, according to the document.

Several hundred checks worth a total of $1,475,944.67 were written from the church account by Gray, police said

Gray wrote and cashed 729 checks, which totaled $639,985, to himself from the Sacred Heart bank account between June 2, 2003 and April 12, 2010. He wrote 202 checks to Zhong from May 1, 2005 to April 4, 2010, totaling $163,850, the warrant states.

Three checks worth a total of $2,706.65 were cashed by One Stop Travel Agency, and two checks totaling $1,650 were cashed by Land Jet Bus Lines, the warrant says.

Gray's total salary from 2003 through the present totals $184,331, police said. The total amount in checks written by Gray and cashed against the church account, minus his salary totals $1,291,613.67.

In addition, Gray acquired more than $200,000 by signing an agreement with Wireless Capital Partners, LLC, out of Santa Monica, Calif. The warrant states that the church found out about the agreement when the company called them, asking about extending their lease.

Gray told police "that there was an antenna in the steeple of the church that could be used for wireless communications." He said he made the agreement in order to have access to more money.

Attorney Karen Casey, who is representing the Archdiocese, told police that no one at the Archdiocese had known about the agreement, and that it is not the church's practice to allow for wireless communication towers or antennas in church buildings, the warrant states.

Gray was also paying his personal cell phone bills with church money, which Rev. John McCarthy of the Archdiocese told police was against policy unless the cell phone was the only phone at the church, which, at Sacred Heart, it was not.

Gray was described as a popular priest in Waterbury, having served in the city for 26 years, first at St. Margaret's and St. Cecilia's churches before arriving at Sacred Heart/Sagrado Corazon.

"We are deeply saddened by the events which have recently had such a profound effect on Sacred Heart/Sagrado Corazon parish," Rev. John P. Gatzak, director of communications for the Hartford Archdiocese, said in a statement today.

"At the financial level, the Archdiocese continues to work with the parish to improve its financial controls and to address issues arising from the situation, such as insurance coverage and outstanding indebtedness. At the spiritual level, we continue to pray for healing and consolation for the parish family as it moves forward and for guidance and reconciliation for Father Gray as he encounters the legal proceedings that await him," Gatzak said.

The alleged theft began in January 2003, but it only came to light during a recent review, Gatzak has said. The money was taken from parish savings accounts as well as funds earmarked for payment of debts, including insurance payments and the cathedraticum, an annual assessment paid by parishes to the archdiocese, he said.

Antonia Ferrucci, who has worked in several parish offices with Gray, told police in a voluntary sworn statement that Gray was the only person who had access to the QuickBooks program to keep track of Sacred Heart's finances.

Ferrucci said Gray hired her as a secretary at St. Margaret's Church in 1997. She told police she continued there after he was transferred to New Hartford, following him after three months, as Immaculate Conception had no office staff, she said. She followed him again to St. Cecelia's in 2001 and Sacred Heart in 2003, police said.

At Immaculate Conception and St. Cecelia's, Ferrucci kept the books, she said. She submitted financial reports to the Archdioceses and the government. St. Margaret's had their own book keeper. Each church had finance committees, parish councils and trustees to oversee financial records, she told police.

The church requires each parish to have a parish financial council to work with the pastor on fiscal matters, but Sacred Heart/Sagrado Corazon did not have such a panel, Gatzak said. Pastors are also required to issue annual financial reports to the archdiocese, but Gray did not comply, the archdiocese spokesman said. Both of those things helped trigger the financial review, which is done on a rotating basis at parishes throughout the archdiocese.

Once they arrived at Sacred Heart, Gray was trained in QuickBooks by the former accountant for the church, Ferrucci said.

"Father Gray was the only person that was ever trained on how to use the system, the only person that had the password for the program, and was the only person that handled the parish finances," according to Ferrucci's statement. "

When representatives from the Archdiocese came to review the finances, they could not access the program because Gray was not there to give them the password. "There was no parish counsel, finance committee, or trustee at Sacred Heart Church the entire time Father Gray was there," she said.

Gray said she would count all weekly offeratory money and donations on Monday mornings with Joyce Coretto and Evelyn Conard. They would sign a collection worksheet and fill out a deposit slip, and Charles Coretto Sr. would bring the money to the bank, she said.

Ferrucci told police Gray never came out and told her he had cancer. She said she heard people talking about him having colon cancer while they were at St. Margaret's, and while at Sacred Heart he mentioned that he was going to radiation and chemotherapy at Sloan-Kettering.

"The entire time I knew Father Gray, he never showed any signs of going through treatments for cancer," Ferrucci, who said she saw the effects of treatment when her daughter had cancer, said.

Ferrucci also told police she found magazines with pictures of nude men in Gray's office on a few occassions. Police recovered one she packed up after findign it in a book case when she was helping Gray move to the St. Peter and Paul Church rectory.

 

http://www.courant.com/community/waterbury/hc-waterbury-priest-0707-20100706,0,328846.story

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Category: Church Security