Warrant: Seymour Priest Admitted ‘unauthorized Borrowing’
By Ethan Fry
Valley Independent Sentinel
March 14, 2016
Detectives probing embezzlement allegations at a Seymour Catholic church spent nearly a year following a paper trail in the case, tracking much of the money from local bank accounts to locations as far-flung as Canada and central Africa.
Their conclusion? The Rev. Honore Kombo, the parish priest of St. Augustine’s on Washington Avenue, had taken tens of thousands of dollars intended for the church and used it for other purposes.
In interviews with police, Kombo told cops that he had “no ill intentions.” He said the money he took went to support programs in his native Congo, and would be paid back.
“It is very unfortunate what I did and I’m deeply sorry but it was not for ill intention and I’m responsible for it,” Kombo is quoted in an arrest warrant as telling detectives. “I will accept whatever the law sees fit in cases like this.”
Seymour police charged Kombo with first-degree larceny Feb. 29.
The Archdiocese of Hartford removed Kombo from his duties at St. Augustine’s about three months into the police probe. He had been the parish priest there since January 2011.
Earlier this month, the Rev. Kevin Forsyth addressed the Kombo situation during a Sunday service. He said the annuity money meant for the church will be repaid.
But individual parishioners who entrusted Kombo with donations may not be as lucky.
“Not only did Father take funds internally, he also asked many of you for donations,” the priest said. “Some of you gave him large sums of money — thousands of dollars. One person gave him a check for $10,000. I’m sorry to say, but the only way those personal donations could be returned to you is if you bring him to court. Why? The parish funds he embezzled — he took illegally. The donations you gave him, he received as a gift. He didn’t steal them from you. You freely gave him those funds — a sad but legal distinction.”
Forsyth then raised the million dollar question.
“We still don’t know why. Why did Father Kombo take these funds and exactly where did they go and for what purpose? We just don’t know,” he said.
Forsyth said the church expected Kombo to apply for accelerated rehabilitation, a special form of probation for nonviolent, first-time offenders.
But at a brief court appearance Monday at Superior Court in Derby, Kombo did not file an application for accelerated rehabilitation.
Instead, the case was continued to March 30 — when it may be transferred to Superior Court in Milford, which handles more serious cases.
Kombo has posted a $10,000 bond in the case. According to court documents, he is currently living in Weston.
The Valley Indy left a message with his lawyer, William Paetzold, Monday.
A 29-page arrest warrant made public after Kombo’s court appearance Monday detailed the police probe into the church’s missing money.
The Fifth Annuity
The warrant, authored by Detective Scott Nihill, says police became involved in the case last April, when they met with a lawyer representing St. Augustine’s and the chief financial officer of the Hartford archdiocese.
They told police that in 2012, a parishioner had left the church a large sum of money through several annuities. At first they thought the parishioner had left four annuities, but “later information discovered during a financial review” unearthed a fifth annuity they had not known about.
They also told cops the parish had hired a forensic accountant from Glastonbury to look at the church’s books.
The warrant says the accountant had questioned Kombo about the fifth annuity, which totaled about $68,000. The priest had admitted using about $27,000 of it “for matters relating to the Congo,” the warrant says.
The accountant concluded Kombo “used approximately $31,042 of St. Augustine Church funds for purposes other than for St. Augustine Church.”
Where’d The Money Go?
Kombo and his lawyer met with police last June promising to cooperate fully with the investigation.
According to the warrant, Kombo said much of the money he took was sent to his native Congo.
He said that in 2006 he attended a conference in Canada about “microfinance” — basically, the practice of delivering financial services to people unable to access them through traditional means.
The programs are popular in developing countries where there aren’t bank branches hawking cheap mortgages on every other street corner.
Kombo said he met a Bolivian microfinance pioneer named Pancho Otero at the conference, and in 2011 arranged to have Otero start up a new microfinance project in the Congo.
But Kombo told police that soon after the project began, he “felt huge pressure” because the company “had to maintain a certain financial threshold . . . to get outside funding.”
The priest told cops that the pressure led to his “unauthorized borrowing of money” from the church. The warrant says Kombo told cops the money would be paid back once the microfinance company got funding from other sources.
Otero died in May 2014.
The warrant says Kombo’s lawyer later forwarded detectives a letter written by the current director of the microfinance program, Credit Ya Mpa.
The letter said Kombo had been the “driving force” behind the project, which began in 2011 but “ran into some financial difficulties” in 2013. The letter said Kombo had sent them nearly $50,000 to stay afloat.
Could There Be More?
But separate documents given to cops by Kombo’s lawyer identified nearly $100,000 in transfers and purchases between January 2013 and January 2015 he said went to the Congo — roughly double the amount the program’s director had indicated in the letter.
After obtaining a search warrant for his personal bank records, the warrant says detectives looked through about 1,400 pages of documents.
The cops concluded that between 2011 and 2015, Kombo made deposits totaling $477,815.87 into his personal account. But his pay and food stipend from the church totaled only $148,316.84.
Kombo earned some extra cash by celebrating special masses or officiating at funerals, but that amount only totaled $36,207.79.
“The amount of ‘extra money’ he made varied every month, but would not add up to the substantially large amount of money” deposited into Kombo’s account, the warrant says.
Kombo’s unexplained income between 2011 and 2015 totaled $151,870.06 — but the warrant doesn’t explicitly allege the money was acquired improperly.
Restitution Offer Declined
Last June Paetzold, Kombo’s lawyer, sent cops a letter saying he had two checks totaling $52,566.83 “to reimburse the church for the funds which were used by Father Kombo.” There was an attempt to see if the charges could be dropped.
But the church declined the offer.
“When it comes to any illegal activity – like embezzlement or pedophilia – the Church no longer “cuts deals.” If you do the crime, you do the time. Every priest knows this,” Forsyth explained to parishioners earlier this month.
Cops met again with Kombo and his lawyer last November.
During the interview, the warrant says Nihill asked Kombo about a series of large deposits he had made to his checking account totaling $114,421, the source of which was not known.
Kombo told police the funds were raised from friends in the United States to fund both the microfinance company and other mission work in the Congo.
The detective also found $33,482.24 in wire transfers Kombo had made into an account in a Canadian bank under his control.
Nihill concluded the transactions were “suspicious” because there was no pattern to the dates or amounts of money, “which you would think if someone was paying bills or investing the funds.”
Kombo said the transfers were attached to a Congolese Catholic diocese and that the money was for the microfinance project.
During the interview Paetzold gave police documents showing an outstanding balance of $21,000 from a line of credit Kombo had opened without authorization had been paid off through the bank. Asked how he got the money to pay off the debt, they told cops Kombo got money from friends.
The lawyer representing St. Augustine told police that Kombo still owed the church $33,492.12, breaking down the total as:
A $27,600 withdrawal made in May 2013 from a bank account where the fifth annuity was deposited;
A May 2013 charge of $1,318.17 from Stop & Shop which Kombo told police was a wire transfer to the Congo for the microfinance project and other charitable work;
A May 2013 debit card purchase of $2,124 which Kombo told police was a wire transfer used to pay salaries of the microfinance project’s employees;
A June 2014 check for $1,406.40 from the church’s cemetery endowment Kombo instead used to make a payment on the line of credit he opened without authorization;
A December 2014 check for $1,043.55 from the cemetery endowment also used to make a payment on the line of credit.
The warrant is embedded below.