A former Darien, Conn., pastor pleaded guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of church money by setting up secret bank accounts to pay for a life of luxury, including traveling around the world and buying a condominium.
The Rev. Michael Jude Fay, who resigned last year as pastor of St. John Roman Catholic Church, pleaded guilty in federal court to interstate transportation of money obtained by fraud. He set up hidden accounts that he called the Bridget Fund and the Don Bosco account to commit the fraud.
"A religious leader who secretly uses contributions made to a church for his own personal benefit destroys the confidence and trust of everyone who donates money to a religious institution or charity," said U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor. "Prosecutions of this kind of serious criminal conduct should serve as a message that no one is above the law."
Investigators working for the Bridgeport Diocese last year said that Fay, 56, used church money for limousines, stays at top hotels around the world, jewelry and clothing from Italy. He also bought a condominium in Florida with another man. Federal investigators said that Fay also spent money to buy a condominium in Philadelphia.
Prosecutors said that Fay took between $1 million and $2.5 million over seven years, but the priest has disputed that estimate. He admitted to taking between $400,000 and $1 million.
Fay, dressed in a dark suit with a bandage on his hand, said that he has undergone chemotherapy for prostate cancer but learned Wednesday that the treatment was not working.
"It's my understanding, your honor, that I used church monies, parish monies for means and for needs other than means and needs of the parish or the parishioners of the parish," Fay said. "My understanding is that it's by fraud."
The Bridgeport Diocese last year released its investigators' report on the priest's lavish lifestyle.
Bridgeport Bishop William Lori, who ordered the investigation by Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, said that he was shocked and angered by the findings.
Lori has faced criticism for his handling of the scandal, especially when it emerged that another priest and the church bookkeeper had hired a private investigator to look into Fay. The pair said they decided to hire the investigator after they met with Lori, and Fay was not removed, according to the report.
Lori said that after he was made aware of potential financial misconduct, he took swift action to stop Fay from using church credit cards, notified civil authorities and forced his resignation.
The church report, which was limited to the past six years, calculated the "potential financial loss" at $1.4 million.
Fay, pastor since 1991, told church officials that the money was used to help needy parishioners and for other legitimate church-related expenses. The report acknowledged that some of the money might have been used for legitimate expenses, but said that Fay failed to document his claims.
Fay also charged $500 fees when he gave lectures.
Fay spent tens of thousands of dollars on home furnishings and meals and more than $20,000 to mark the 25th anniversary of his ordination, according to the church report.
He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on Dec. 4. He also must make restitution. Fay was released on $50,000 bond.