Former priest to learn sentence next week - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Former priest to learn sentence next week

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By Chuck Weber email

WEST PALM BEACH (WFLX)-It was sentencing day for a former priest who admitted to stealing from his Delray Beach parish. But the judge said he needs more time to decide on a sentence.

A West Palm Beach courtroom was packed, mostly with supporters of John Skehan. Several of Skehan's former parishioners, along with other priests, testified on his behalf, telling of his years of good works. Skehan served more than three decades at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach.

In January Skehan pleaded guilty to grand theft, taking more than $100,000 from the church. Under state sentencing guidelines, the 82-year old Skehan scores between 21 months and 30 years in prison.

Skehan's supporters were not the only ones urging Judge Jeffrey Colbath to go below those guidelines. The Vicar General of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Charles Notabartolo, told the judge the diocese is only interested in restitution and did not want Skehan to go to prison. Prosecutor Preston Migdoll agreed, telling the judge probation is appropriate for the 82-year old Skehan.

Migdoll told the judge he could prove Skehan took $370,000 from the church, in crimes still within the statute of limitations. Investigators had earlier said Skehan and fellow priest Francis Guinan together ripped off St. Vincent's for more than a million.

Friday Migdoll said Skehan had agreed to surrender to the diocese a condo, collectible coins, and cash worth a total of $786,000.

Skehan addressed the judge, reading a prepared statement. He began, "Your Honor, I stand with great respect for this court, with humility and remorse." At that point, Skehan broke into sobs. Several seconds later, Skehan regained his composure and resumed his statement. He apologized, admitted he did wrong, but asked the judge to consider the "whole" of his life and not only his misdeeds.

Judge Colbath said he would rule on a sentence for Skehan by the end of next week.

After the hearing, prominent Delray Beach developer Frank McKinney, who had testified for Skehan, said in spite of all parties urging probation only, he worried the former priest might still face jail time. "In the environment we're in, with the Madoff's and all these people absconding with money," observed McKinney, "if the climate was a little different, he would be walking out of here right now."

Last month a jury convicted Francis Guinan of stealing between $20- and $100,000. Guinan's sentencing is set for Wednesday before a different judge.

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