Category: Archive

Florida priests both get jail time

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Rev. Francis Guinan, 66, was sentenced to four years behind bars last week following a trial in a West Palm Beach court during which Guinan, an Offaly native, had defended his actions.
The second priest, Fr. John Skehan, 81, and originally from County Kilkenny, had pleaded guilty to grand theft of more than $100,000. He was sentenced to 14 months.
In sentencing Guinan, Judge Krista Marx described the cleric’s deeds as being examples of “unmitigated greed and unmitigated gall.”
A jury last month convicted Guinan of second-degree felony grand theft of a sum between $20,000 and $100,000.
Church authorities and law enforcement investigators in Florida, however, believe that the amount of money stolen by both men over a period of years was far greater than stated in the eventual charges.
During the trial, and in his own defense, Guinan blamed much of the financial loss on lax oversight by his diocese. Before being sentenced, he delivered a wide ranging apology, but also argued that he had already served enough time, that being just over one month, in jail.
Judge Marx did not agree.
“Because of your corruption, the charitable hearts of many have been stifled,” Marx told Guinan at sentencing. Guinan was facing a potential 15 years in prison and, according to reports, showed no reaction when the judge handed down four.
Guinan was also ordered to pay restitution of $99,999.99.
Meanwhile, Skehan was sentenced to 14 months by another judge, Judge Jeffrey Colbath, this despite a plea for probation from prosecutors, his defense attorney, some of his former parishioners, fellow clergy and the diocese of Palm Beach.
Skehan had faced a potential 20-month minimum term.
In a pre-sentencing hearing, Skehan had broken down in court and cried. He said that he knew he had done wrong and was ashamed of his actions. He had known them to be wrong.
Judge Colbath listed Skehan’s age, his contrition and admission of guilt, as well as $786,767 paid in restitution as reasons for the lighter sentence.
Observers also noted the fact that Skehan, in contrast to Guinan, had pleaded guilty.
“The court finds the defendant is not merely sorry because he got caught, but is truly shameful, embarrassed and remorseful,” Colbath said. But the judge was also scornful in his words.
“The crime of the defendant was pure greed unmasked. There was not a shred of moral necessity to excuse the defendant’s crime. Over the course of several years, this defendant was able to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars by violating the sacred trust of loyal and faithful parishioners, some very wealthy, some very poor,” he said.
Skehan will also serve seven years probation, but this after being released from prison. He must surrender himself to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office on, or before, May 1.
Fr. Skehan, had specifically pleaded guilty to taking money from at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach over a number of years. Prosecutors charged that the money taken by both priests had been used to support gambling, lavish lifestyles and even girlfriends.
According to the prosecutors at the time of the initial arrests, September, 2006, the grand total in the alleged thefts over four decades exceeded $8.6 million.
Skehan is a retired monsignor who served as pastor at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church on George Bush Boulevard in Delray Beach. He was first arrested at Palm Beach International Airport after returning from a trip to Ireland. He was then freed on a $400,000 bond.
His successor as pastor, Guinan, 66, was separately slapped with charges of misappropriating offertory funds by depositing them into a bank account. He was first arrested after returning to Florida from a cruise.
According to the police probable cause affidavit at the time of the arrests, as suspicions of financial impropriety grew, the diocese of Palm Beach hired a firm of accountants to investigate finances at St. Vincent Ferrer.
According to the affidavit, and based on the analysis and calculations of an accountancy firm, “$8,690,593 of offertory cash was misappropriated during the tenures of Fr. John Skehan and Fr. Francis Guinan.”
The affidavit stated that forensic analysis had identified “slush funds” with misappropriated money being diverted away from the parish operating fund.
The affidavit listed property owned by Fr. Skehan including a condo in Deerfield Beach and another on Riviera Beach, Fla. It also pointed to a cottage near the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare and a pub in Kilkenny.
Subsequent to the arrests, the head of the diocese of Palm Beach, Bishop Gerald Barbarito, apologized to parishioners at St. Vincent Ferrer. The investigation by the State Attorney’s Office and law enforcement agencies was prompted by a letter from “a concerned parishioner” written in April of 2005.

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