Summit Jury Indicts Priest in Drug Raid
Marijuana Allegations Have Swirled around Pastor for at Least 10 Years
By Phil Trexler
Akron Beacon Journal [Ohio]
February 5, 2004
Police have heard allegations for years that a local priest was growing and smoking marijuana.
But it wasn't until last month that authorities closed down a marijuana farm inside the Prince of Peace church rectory in Norton and arrested the Rev. Richard Arko.
According to an affidavit used by police to secure a search warrant at the church, allegations of marijuana use and growth by Arko date back at least 10 years.
On Wednesday, Arko was indicted by a Summit County grand jury on three charges: cultivating marijuana, possession of criminal tools and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Arko, 40, is due to be arraigned Friday in Summit County Common Pleas Court. He is currently free on bond and has been suspended by the Cleveland diocese. If convicted, he faces a sentence ranging from probation to two years in prison.
A co-defendant, 24-year-old Jensen J. Powell, who lived at the rectory with Arko, was indicted on two counts of trafficking marijuana. He is accused of selling $15 worth to an informant working for police. He also faces a maximum two-year prison term.
According to a sworn statement from Norton Police Lt. Thad Hete used to obtain a search warrant, the Rev. John McNulty, pastor of Holy Cross Church in Euclid, "discovered Richard Arko growing marijuana plants on the church grounds."
The document doesn't say what church grounds or when.
Arko, who was ordained in 1990, served as a priest at the Euclid church until 1994, when he was transferred to St. Mary's Catholic Church in Barberton.
In 2001, Arko became administrator of Sacred Heart in Barberton while also serving at St. Mary's. The parishes merged in 2002 and Arko became pastor of the churches, renamed Prince of Peace, in March 2003.
In his application for the affidavit, Hete said he learned of the allegation made by the Euclid priest in 1999. He heard it from a Barberton detective.
McNulty, reached by phone on Wednesday, disputed the claim. He said he never saw marijuana plants being grown by Arko and never talked to police about marijuana.
"If I saw an illegal substance, the bishop would have been informed and so would have the police department," McNulty said. "But I never discovered any marijuana and I never talked to anyone about marijuana."
The same affidavit claimed that Barberton police investigated a marijuana plant growing outside St. Mary's Church in 1995. No one was apparently arrested on the report.
In August 2000, a confidential informant told police that Arko smokes marijuana and gives or sells it to his friends.
But it wasn't until Jan. 16 of this year that the same source said he had smoked marijuana with Arko "from the first day" the two had met at St. Mary's and continued to do so throughout the 10 years they have known each other.
The source, unidentified in the affidavit, told police about Arko's indoor marijuana farm at the Prince of Peace rectory.
The source also made allegations that the priest would also grow and abuse opium.
Less than a week after the source talked to police, a second source went to the church rectory and made a $15 marijuana purchase from Powell. The informant was wired by police.
The next day, the Prince of Peace rectory was raided and Arko was arrested. Police seized 35 marijuana plants and gadgets to grow them and smoke them from a room to which Arko said he had the only key.
Powell, who had nearly $1,100 in his pocket when he was arrested, is the only one who made a statement to police on Arko's alleged marijuana growth and use.
"Dude, he's been doing this for years," Powell told detectives before declining to say anything else.
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