Norton Priest Arrested on Drug Charges

By Karen Farkas
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
January 23, 2004

- A Catholic priest has been charged with cultivating marijuana after police found 35 plants in the closet of a spare bedroom of the rectory next to his church.

The Rev. Richard Arko, 40, was in Summit County Jail Thursday after bond was set at $3,000 in a video arraignment before Barberton Municipal Judge Michael McNulty.

He was placed on a "leave of absence from priestly ministry" Thursday, according to a statement from the Cleveland Catholic Diocese. It said Arko would hire an attorney.

Jensen Powell, 24, an unemployed man living in the home with Arko, was charged with trafficking in marijuana, police said. His bond was set at $10,000. He was in jail Thursday.

Arko, who was ordained in 1990, is pastor of Prince of Peace Church on Shannon Avenue. Norton Police Chief J. Gregory Carris said he could not say why his department, the Summit County Drug Unit and Barberton police began investigating Arko or what led to the search at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

At that time, officers found the plants - ranging from 6 inches to 4 feet tall - in the closet, along with grow lights, air purifiers and books on how to grow the plants. Carris said each plant is worth about $1,000.

Two plastic sandwich bags containing marijuana and $1,100 were taken from Powell, Carris said. Police said Powell was selling marijuana from the home. The men were arrested Wednesday.

Carris said he did not know how long Powell had been living there or his connection to Arko. The men stayed in bedrooms other than the second-floor room that had the marijuana.

The church borders Barberton. Arko has been in the area since August 1994, when he was named administrator of St. Mary Church in Barberton, according to the diocese release. He then was named administrator of Sacred Heart Church, which was renamed Prince of Peace after it merged with St. Mary on July, 1, 2002.

Arko was appointed pastor on March 25, 2003.

A pretrial for Arko and Powell is scheduled for Wednesday.


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