Texas to Let Priest's Ministry Operate with Changes

Associated Press, carried in Houston Chronicle [Dallas TX]
July 2, 2003

DALLAS - The Texas Attorney General's office has agreed to let a Catholic priest's ministry to immigrants continue despite finding questionable spending and lax financial controls. But the state demanded reforms be made.

The Casita Maria charity has agreed to require its founder, the Rev. Justin Lucio, and a top aide to pay $23,000 in restitution to cover credit card expenses that had benefited the two personally, under a settlement that averts legal action by the state.

The charity will also stop making interest-free loans to staff members -- a violation of state law -- and guarantee repayment of previous loans.

The improprieties were largely the result of unfamiliarity with proper charitable operations, Attorney General Greg Abbott indicated. Abbott said Tuesday that his office found no evidence of "willful violations of the law."

Lucio referred calls by The Dallas Morning News seeking comment to the charity's lawyer, Frank Sommerville, who told The Associated Press Wednesday he was confident that the reforms would be made.

"We appreciate the attorney general working with us to resolve the issues," Sommerville said.

In the settlement, the state insisted Casita Maria implement broad new oversight measures and appoint a new board of directors, which would remove Lucio as chairman and his aide, Joe Granados, as vice chairman.

The state cautioned that it could still sue to recover misspend funds, close the charity or take other legal action if Casita Maria didn't follow through on its pledges.

Two federal inquiries were also being conducted into the charity.

Lucio launched the charity more than a decade ago after he was removed from ministry because of allegations of sexual and financial misconduct. Lucio denies those accusations. He remains a priest but cannot work in parishes.


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