Prince Edward Island priest pleads guilty of theft from Ottawa church

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Rev. Joseph LeClair, originally from Tignish, admits stealing $130,000 from Blessed Sacrament church in Glebe region

Father Joe LeClair, left, arrives at the Ottawa courthouse in the company of his lawyer, Matt Webber.

OTTAWA —  A Prince Edward Island priest, once the popular leader at Blessed Sacrament church in the Glebe region of Ottawa, pleaded guilty Monday to fraud and theft after admitting he wrote parish cheques to himself and stole money from the collection plate.

Meanwhile, the Crown dropped charges of money laundering and breach of trust, which were laid in July 2012 after an 11-month police investigation.

Rev. Joseph LeClair, who is originally from Tignish, pleaded guilty to fraud and theft based on an agreed statement of facts that said the Archdiocese of Ottawa hired the accounting firm Deloitte and Touche to audit church finances after media reports about LeClair’s gambling in 2011.

The audit found that $1.16 million was deposited into LeClair’s account over a five-year period, but $769,000 of that was his salary, legitimate stipends, gifts from parishioners or casino winnings.

The statement of facts said roughly $400,000 could not be explained, but Assistant Crown Attorney Peter Napier said he accepted for the purpose of the plea deal that the priest defrauded Blessed Sacrament of $130,000.

The Ottawa police were called in to investigate the misuse of parish funds in October 2011.

What police found was that LeClair secured “significant” cash advances on his credit card between Jan. 1, 2006, and May 31, 2011, a majority of which were made at the Casino du Lac-Leamy.

Police found LeClair, 56, wrote $61,800 worth of cheques to himself from the church’s mass account, which were identified as stipends and often used to pay down his personal credit card debt.

“Under the rules of the church and the parish, Father LeClair was not entitled to receive these funds that he claimed as stipends,” Napier read from the agreed statement of facts.

Police also found that only $13,170 out of $157,000 in revenue from marriage preparation courses over five years was deposited into the church account.

LeClair insisted that couples who took the course pay the $100 fee in cash, the agreed statement of facts said.

The $13,170 that was deposited into the church account was paid by cheque, court heard.

In an interview with Sgt. Richard Dugal that lasted more than six hours, the former priest admitted that $35,000 of the marriage course revenue was used to pay his gambling debts.

LeClair also admitted that more than $16,000 over five years in collection plate money was deposited into his personal account, court heard Monday, and was used to repay his gambling debts.

Ottawa Archbishop Terence Prendergast issued a written statement saying: “Despite this difficult decision affecting Fr. LeClair’s life, I know that he is relieved to have this painful moment behind him. I share his desire, and that of the many people who supported him over the last two years, to move on and to look to the future.

“Fr. LeClair admitted to the addictions which were harmful to him personally and to his pastoral ministry. As we have from the first day when Fr. LeClair’s problems became known to us, we continue to support Fr. LeClair in his recovery.”

 

Meghan Hurley is a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen

Organizations: Blessed Sacrament church, Ottawa Citizen

Geographic location: Ottawa, Prince Edward Island, Tignish Glebe

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Recent comments

  • sylvia
    January 23, 2014 - 09:12

    A wonderful gifted person, and childhood friend , who had a addiction, he is not a evil man he is a exceptional priest who made some very wrong decesions based on his addiction ! My prayers continue for his healing....We as humans all have our flaws .If you are perfect throw the first stone!!!

    • Delsalvio
      February 26, 2014 - 21:19

      He threw the first stone & the second and third. He intimated many -All a plot to defraud . Yes he was gifted -to con all into believing , and to Prove you believed you gave and gave and gave .

  • Curtis
    January 22, 2014 - 13:35

    I sure hope he is defrocked and never allowed to serve as a member of clergy again. I believe any church or charity should have strict accounting practices, and the justice system should prevail in this situation and see this felon behind bars for his due.

  • SRegan
    January 22, 2014 - 09:18

    I am absolutely shocked at what is shown on TV! How could this man wear a big smile and stand tall instead of being ashamed and walking with his head between his legs! And then people are hugging him and shaking his hand........ What is wrong! He has been stealing for years! This is not one or two mistakes - he repeatedly stole from the church which ever way he could! Small time hoodlums brought to justice hide their face and are ashamed at their "one or two mistakes" but people are supporting him! What would happen to me if I stole from a church to support my gambling addiction? Would you be shaking my hand? I was brought up catholic and this is another reason why I do not go to catholic church. Not only has he committed many serious felonies but so are all of those shaking his hand! And you think he has done well by your kids? How "two-faced" can someone be!!!!! Disgusting !!!!!

    • edith desroche
      January 22, 2014 - 17:35

      Just take a look at the politicians that are supposedly looking after our country. If you haven't sinned, you throw the first stone!!!

    • Bob
      January 24, 2014 - 09:12

      It is comments such as this that make me glad I remain Catholic. Christianity's commitment to mercy, compassion, and forgiveness are the highest calling we have, and I am glad to hear there are people who willingly grasp the hands of yes - even a criminal. As Jesus said in the parable of the King, "you visited me in prison.... when you did this for the least of these, you also did so for me."

  • Justice
    January 21, 2014 - 20:53

    I bet the leclairs have the wind out of their sails now. Maybe now they can come down a few notches as the suposively "super father leclair" is now exposed to what he really is a big phony......... Jail him!!!!!

  • A. Forgiver
    January 21, 2014 - 15:38

    Flawed, sick, but not evil. He provided an exceptional presence to the kids and families at the local children's hospital in Ottawa in-particular when a death had occurred. Look back to some of the early article in the Ottawa newspaper's comments. I was part of his church and attended masses and my contributions were misused. Yet, he also spoke SO WELL of PEI during his Masses that was one small reason why we are raising our family here. Maybe now that this ordeal has concluded we can move on to healing all those affected including Fr. LeClair

  • don
    January 21, 2014 - 14:10

    he will run for the pm office in a few years.

  • In The Wrong Job
    January 21, 2014 - 13:28

    He would make a good Senator. He might even have a cottage on P.E.I.

  • peiguy
    January 21, 2014 - 11:49

    Defrock and jail. Poor community leader. I feel bad that the needy and other charitable causes the church collections are intended for have had to do without.

  • Rene Albert
    January 21, 2014 - 10:55

    Some stipend... A crook is a crook.Throw him in jail!!!

  • HEAVENCANWAIT
    January 21, 2014 - 10:44

    How can a convicted thief remain in the priesthood/ Oh yeah, they allow pedophiles as well. And yes, Archbishop Prendergast,keep these miscreants in your church,they are good for business if you use them as examples of what not to do.

  • Lloyd
    January 21, 2014 - 10:35

    Throw the thief in jail. He is a disgrace. I bet the people of Tignish are proud of this supposedly holy man.