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  Embezzler Priest Sentenced to Year

By Flynn McRoberts
Chicago Tribune
January 14, 1992

Monday was Judgment Day for Rev. William Joffe, the Roman Catholic priest who confessed to embezzling $264,000 from his McHenry County parish.

So it was fitting that U.S. District Judge Robert Warren, himself the son of a preacher, filled his words to the 60-year-old Joffe on Monday with the language of religion.

"As one who wears the cloth, you're going to have an accounting with the man upstairs," Warren told Joffe, the former pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Harvard who stood in front of the judge dressed in his Roman collar and priestly black suit.

But on this day, in the stern elegance of his federal courtroom, Warren was concerned with justice, not judgment.

"That's not my place," he said. "My role is to represent Caesar, if you will. As scripture says, I'm here to (give) what is Caesar's unto Caesar."

In an irony even the judge apparently didn't realize, Warren tagged Joffe "a white-collar criminal."

For that crime, Warren sentenced Joffe to 1 year in prison and 5 years probation, the price for committing two counts of bank fraud and one count of interstate transportation of a fraudulent check. He had faced a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

Under terms of his probation, Joffe must serve 300 hours of community service and pay $27,500 in restitution to Walworth State Bank in Wisconsin.

Joffe opened a fraudulent account at the bank, called "St. Joseph's 'F' Account," embezzled about $264,000 from the church and then put the money into his personal account, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Susan Knepel, who handled the case.

But St. Joseph's parishioners will see none of that money because the Diocese of Rockford, where St. Joseph's is located, is not seeking restitution, according to Warren and federal prosecutors.

Rockford Diocese officials did not return phone calls Monday, but Warren said that it appeared that church officials simply wanted the issue to go away.

It's unclear whether Joffe could make restitution anyway. As he told Warren: "The expense to the court I've caused bothers me because there's no way I can make recompense for that."

Warren told the stocky, bespectacled Joffe, "You seem to have an inability to distinguish between what is mine and what is thine."

Noting that he had been flooded with letters from Joffe's fellow clergymen attesting to his character, Warren said, "You do a lot of good."

But he added, "You did profit substantially from your intermixing of funds. I know you don't take a vow of poverty. (But) I find it very strange that a priest would be running a supper club . . . and a horse farm.

"How can you do all those things and also do what your profession calls you to do?"

As Joffe was finishing his four-year stint at St. Joseph's in the spring of 1987, he claimed a net worth of more than $2.7 million. The assets included a struggling Wisconsin resort called Lauderdale Lakes, a restaurant and a horse farm. Three months later, he was in bankruptcy court.

On Monday, standing beside his attorney, Dianne Erickson, Joffe addressed Warren before the judge sentenced him.

"I have a lot of remorse in my heart," Joffe began, saying he regretted any damage he had done to the "trust level" and "people's faith."

"That troubles me greatly. I have to answer to that, and someday I will," he said. "I will live with that personal condemnation within myself for the rest of my life."

Joffe said he has a standing offer from church officials in Lexington, Ky., to work "among the poor."

The priest may get a chance to help the poor, but it will be in the form of 300 hours of community service that Warren prescribed, once he completes a 12-month prison term. He will be eligible for parole in several months.

In defending her client, Erickson contended that Joffe's "primary motivation was to help others."

She pointed out, for instance, that about $43,000 of the embezzled money was used for church improvements, including installation of air conditioning and stained-glass doors in a chapel.

Arguing for a two-year prison term, Knepel referred to what Joffe had said earlier to the judge. "Lacking in the defendant's statement was, 'Yes, I took the money and I am sorry for it,' " she said.

"This defendant held a very high position of responsibility in the church," Knepel added, one that included overseeing parish finances. "What did he do with this money? He stole it."

As for the Rockford Diocese's decision not to seek restitution, Nolan said, "That's up to the diocese. There's not much we can say about that.

"(But) it's a good a question. Maybe they'll be a little more careful, a little more responsive to the needs of the people. Maybe something like this won't happen again."

 
 

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