A Philadelphia judge expressed surprise this week that Catholic Church officials thought it was best to forgive and forget the fact that Msgr William Dombrow, above, had embezzled half-million dollars meant to fund the care of aging and retired priests.
Their “no harm, no foul” attitude stemmed from the fact that the local diocese believed that some of the money he stole from the bequests of parishioners and dead priests’ life insurance payouts was used to better the lives of retired priests at Villa St Joseph in Darby.
According to this report, US District Judge Gerald J Pappert wasn’t too impressed by evidence that Dombrow, 78, a former rector at the retirement home, really meant well and sentenced him on Wednesday to eight months in prison. He said a man who stole thousands to cover his copious gambling debts, buy concert tickets, and pay for trips abroad needed to be jailed.
What happened here is that someone with a weakness took great advantage of the generosity of countless people and saw an opportunity to fund a lifestyle – and to a certain extent an addiction – with other people’s money.
Dombrow, a recovering alcoholic, lowered his head, and clasped his hands together and pressed them to his lips as his sentence was announced. The punishment, which also included an order to pay the archdiocese $533,258 in restitution, elicited gasps from the crowd of supporters, including several priests and nuns.
It could have been worse. A lot worse. It was reported here last year that he faced a maximum of 80 years in jail plus fines and three years of supervised release.
Dombrow told the judge:
What I’ve done, I know, is a serious crime, and I am guilty of that. All I can do is accept what your decision is today and move on with my life. I truly trust God with all of this.
Assistant US Attorney Michelle Rotella scoffed at what she saw as an attempt to portray the monsignor solely as a victim of a gambling addiction. She said he spent thousands, too, on theatre and Philly Pops tickets, fancy dinners, and travel to Florida, Aruba, and Italy.
The lavish lifestyle he pursued, she added extended well beyond casino doors. And despite his expressions of remorse, Dombrow had made no effort to pay back any of the money he stole.
Dombrow pleaded guilty last May to four counts of wire fraud, admitting that for nearly nine years he had siphoned money from the bequests of parishioners and life-insurance payouts from priests who had died at the retirement facility.
The crook stole money from a rapist’s estate
One of the insurance pay-outs he stole – $14,410 dollars – was came from the estate of Fr Francis Rogers, a serial boy rapist who was protected from the law by the Catholic Church, and sheltered at Villa St Joseph until his death in 2005.
His crimes were discovered two years ago, when the bank that administered the account flagged several suspicious transactions at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack and notified the archdiocese.
Dombrow’s lawyer, Coley O Reynolds, said that archdiocesan officials were not aware of the money that was going into Dombrow’s secret Villa St Joseph account and that the funds his client stole did not affect the budget set aside to care for the approximately 50 retired priests housed at the home.
As soon as officials confronted the monsignor with his crimes, he agreed to cooperate with their investigation.
Reynolds maintained that much of the money Dombrow diverted into his slush fund was spent to better the lives of retirement facility residents. The concert tickets, he said, were used to treat priests to a night on the town. Other funds went toward building a shrine for deceased priests and to build a closed-in sun porch at the facility.
He did a number of things for those priests – bringing them flowers, taking them out to dinner. Those Philly Pops tickets? It’s not like he went with a girlfriend. He went with other priests. And no priest [at Villa St. Joseph] went without something because of the monsignor’s spending.
Despite stealing from his employer for nearly nine years, he was allowed to remain at Villa St Joseph and maintain his title and status as a priest – though his control over financial matters had been cut off, an archdiocesan spokesman said last year.
Archbishop Charles J Chaput, above, was among those who wrote supportive letters to the judge on Dombrow’s behalf. He said he continued to pray for the monsignor and cited Dombrow’s decades-long career helping other addicts.
After achieving sobriety three decades ago, Dombrow went on to lead the Archdiocesan Priests’ Committee on Alcoholism and a treatment facility for those seeking religious-based addiction care. He has served as a board member for other centres.
Pappert acknowledged that history while imposing his sentence.
We have someone here who has done an awful lot of good for an awful lot of people. There is a limited amount of credit [Dombrow] should receive for that. That was his job.