The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 14, 2012

Priest victimized

$70,000 in St. Joseph Calasanctius funds tapped ‘scheme of extortion fraud’

Star Beacon

JEFFERSON —  The Rev. Stephen Wassie, who resigned last year from St. Joseph Calasanctius because he mismanaged about $70,000 of parish funds, was the victim of “a scheme of extortion fraud,” according to a Nov. 9 letter from the Diocese of Youngstown.

The issue was brought forward in a letter given to parishioners by the Most Rev. George  V. Murry, the diocese’s bishop on Sunday, which said, “At this time, no charges are anticipated against Father Wassie.”

The letter further states Wassie, 59, wasn’t the only victim, but rather the extortion and fraud was perpetuated  “by a person who has been involved in a series of other criminal activities across northeastern Ohio.”

An audit of the church’s funds revealed Wassie gave the perpetrator about $70,000 of the church’s money, plus some of his own private funds, according to Murry’s letter.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation into this matter is on-going, and therefore, there is no further comment on the details of the extortion, Mark Moretti, public information officer, said.

Murry said he believes the investigation will be over very soon.

The church has filed a claim with its insurance provider to see if the loss can be recovered, he said.

“We, likewise, have asked Father Wassie to make some restitution to the parish in light of his misjudgments,” Murry said.

Procedures are now in place for the parish finance council to review all bank and investment statements on a monthly basis. This will enable council  to be aware of any unusual financial activity, Murry said.

“I am profoundly sorry that this has occurred in your parish,” Murry said in the letter. “Please be assured that in my daily prayers, I am asking the Lord to give you to faith and the strength  to continue the forward path you are on under the leadership of Father Charles Poore.”

Poore, a 1980 Conneaut High School graduate, is the former pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Youngstown, and held associate pastor posts at churches in Girard, Ohio; Austintown, Canton and Boardman.

Wassie now is serving as a priest in Salem, Ohio.