Judge Sentences Darien Priest to Just over Three Years in Prison

By Donna Porstner
December 4, 2007,0,3427571.story?coll=stam-news-local-headlines

NEW HAVEN - A federal judge sentenced the former pastor of St. John Roman Catholic Church in Darien to three years in prison for embezzling parish money to lead a lavish lifestyle.

The Rev. Michael Jude Fay, 56, admitted to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the collection plate over seven years and spending it on designer clothing, a downpayment on a condominium, trips around the world and other personal expenses.

During his sentencing in U.S. District Court Tuesday afternoon, Judge Janet Bond Arterton said Fay broke the law and betrayed the trust of his parishioners.

"It was an enormous crime because there were so many whose faith and dedication to the church were preyed upon," Arterton said.

She sentenced him to 37 months in jail followed by three years of supervised release.

She ordered Fay to repay St. John parish $1 million, though Fay has said he does not have the assets to comply. Arterton set conditions that ban him from charging items that cost more than $200 on his credit cards and ban him from opening new credit cards or lines of credit without approval from the probation office.

The judge said she hopes his sentence sends the message that "not even a collar can protect you from prison."

Fay, along with a half-dozen friends and relatives, asked the judge to spare him prison time because he is coping with terminal prostate cancer.

"I beg for your mercy not to send me to prison," Fay told the judge. "I am already in prison and I beg you to let me die with the medical dignity my doctors and nurses provide."

Supporters, including his brother, sister and former parishioners, said Fay could be of better use to society counseling the ill and infirm, since he has a history of ministering to the sick and dying.

Fay said he is "deeply sorry for this whole situation" and the year and a half since he resigned in disgrace has been "suffering and hell."

He said he is sorry for his actions, his ignorance and "for not realizing the effects of my medical drugs."

Prosecutor Richard Schechter reminded the judge that Fay began stealing from the parish in 1999, two years before he was diagnosed with cancer.

Arterton said she considered Fay's medical condition in determining his sentence, but Fay failed to prove that the Bureau of Prisons could not provide adequate medical care.

She has "no record he is seriously infirm," Arterton said.

She scheduled him to report to jail April 2, though he may ask to postpone it should he qualify for a clinical trial for a new cancer medication at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where he is being treated.

Arterton suggested Fay continue his ministry in prison, counseling other inmates.

Fay, who resigned as pastor in May 2006, pleaded guilty in September to one count of interstate transportation of money obtained by fraud.

Prosecutors say Fay stole $1.3 million from the parish from 1999 to 2006, funneling much of the money into two secret bank accounts. They say he used the money to travel around the world and put a downpayment on a Philadelphia condominium.

Fay agreed he stole parish money but disagreed with the amount prosecutors claimed. Fay said it was $400,000 to $1 million because some was used to buy gifts for church employees and volunteers and to entertain parishioners.

"A religious leader who secretly uses contributions made to a church for his own personal benefit destroys the confidence and trust of everyone who donates money to a religious institution or charity," U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said in a statement. "Prosecutions of this kind of serious criminal conduct should serve as a message that no one is above the law."

An audit commissioned by the Bridgeport Diocese found Fay spent $1.4 million over six years to buy designer clothing, limousine rides, Cartier jewelry and other items.

Fay tried to delay the sentencing until April, when he is scheduled to finish treatments for prostate cancer. In court papers filed last week, his attorney, Lawrence Hopkins, said a "significant sentence" would result in Fay dying alone in prison. The court should consider Fay's good works during his 28 years as a priest and the theatrical productions he put on to entertain parishioners when setting his sentence, Hopkins said.

While his sentencing yesterday brings the criminal case to an end, St. John's is trying to recoup its financial losses.

A year ago Fay transferred his interest in a Florida condominium he bought in 2005 with his wedding-planner boyfriend, Cliford Fantini, to the parish.

St. John's officials say they want to sell their half of the condo but so far have been blocked by Fantini. In the meantime, the parish has been paying half of the property taxes and common charges on the Fort Lauderdale property, which adds to its losses.


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