Witness: Priest's lavish charges paid with church money - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Witness: Priest's lavish charges paid with church money

By Chuck Weber email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX)-Wednesday jurors heard damaging testimony and saw key evidence in the trial of a priest, accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his former parish.

Prosecutors showed jurors copies of checks written by Father Francis Guinan, on an account of St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach. Prosecutors say the documents show Guinan used those checks to pay his own credit card bills-- bills containing charges for restaurants, hotels, even airline tickets.

During questioning of Denis Hamel, Chief Financial Officer at the Diocese of Palm Beach, prosecutor Preston Migdoll asked about one expenditure of more than $3,100 at the Atlantis Hotel in Nassau, the Bahamas. "Would that be an expense in the ordinary course of business of St. Vincent Ferrer Church?" queried Migdoll. "No it would not," answered Hamel.

Prosecutors also showed jurors thousands of dollars worth of checks Guinan wrote on the church account to himself, and to a former bookkeeper at St. Patrick's Church in Palm Beach Gardens, where Guinan earlier served.

The first witness Wednesday was a different bookkeeper, Colleen Head, who once worked at St. Vincent Ferrer. She testified about money the church received in collections during weekend services.

Head said after the money was counted, she would turn it over to Father Guinan. Later he would return the money for deposit in church bank accounts. But the bookkeeper said Guinan always gave her back less money.

"I documented on one point, I believe the amount was $4,600 less than the original amount," explained Head. The average, she said, was a couple thousand dollars less.

During cross-examination, Guinan's lawyer, Richard Barlow, asked Head how many people had access to the church's safes. She said several people did. She also said one of the safes was often kept open.

Investigators say Guinan and another priest at St. Vincent, Father John Skehan, ultimately stole millions, using the money for a lavish lifestyle that included owning overseas property and going on gambling trips.

Guinan's attorney, Barlow, said last month his client took nothing from the church, and that priests can legitimately earn big money performing weddings, baptisms and funerals.

The trial could last another week and a half.

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