Priest Charged in Church Thefts

By Rita Ciolli
Newsday [Long Island NY]
October 17, 2003

A Roman Catholic priest who told police he stole about $100 a week for more than 20 years from the collection baskets at St. Martin of Tours church in Bethpage was arraigned in Nassau District Court in Hempstead yesterday.

The Rev. John Johnston did not enter a plea before Judge Scott Fairgrieve after he was charged with one count of second-degree grand larceny, a felony, for stealing about $86,000 over a 20- to 25-year period.

Fairgrieve set cash bail at $10,000. Johnston is due back in court Monday. He made no reply when asked for comment yesterday as he arrived at police headquarters in Mineola from the jail on Rikers Island.

Johnston, 64, now faces criminal charges in three jurisdictions, all stemming from his arrest last week on charges of making harassing telephone calls to Bishop McLoughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn. When city police traced the call to his Jackson Heights apartment, they found three handguns, one with a lapsed license, as well as Nazi helmets and daggers and pornographic videos and magazines.

Police said Johnston led them to his bedroom where there was a shopping bag full of money, including St. Martin of Tours collection envelopes still filled with parishioners' weekly donations. Police said he told them he skimmed about $60 to $100 a week, calling it his "401K plan."

Johnston had previously been arraigned on eight counts of aggravated harassment in Brooklyn, and possession of stolen property and criminal possession of a weapon in Queens. He has pleaded not guilty to all the Queens and Brooklyn counts.

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