Second Irish Florida Priest Gets Four Years in Jail for Theft

The Irish Times
March 25, 2009

Fr Francis Guinan in court in West Palm Beach, Florida, yesterday before being sentenced.
Photo by Lannis Waters

THE SECOND of two Irish Catholic priests was sentenced to prison yesterday in a case involving the misappropriation of more than $8 million (ˆ5.89 million) from a church in Florida.

Fr Francis Guinan and Fr John Skehan were accused in 2006 of skimming money from collection plates and bequests at their church in Delray Beach, Florida, and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on real estate, travel, rare coins and girlfriends.

Fr Guinan (66), originally from Co Offaly, was sentenced yesterday to four years in prison after taking the case to trial and being found guilty of a lesser charge of theft under $100,000.

Judge Krista Marx said Guinan must be punished for “unmitigated greed and unmitigated gall”, Fort Lauderdale’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper reported.

“No matter how many good works you have performed in your many years as a priest, your legacy will always be one of thievery and deceit,” she said.

On Tuesday, Fr Skehan (81), originally from Co Kilkenny, was sentenced to 14 months in prison by a Florida court. He is due to begin his sentence on May 1st. He will serve seven years’ probation, the West Palm Beach court heard. Fr Skehan has also agreed to make a restitution of over $700,000.

Due to his advanced age, his remorse and his guilty plea, his sentence was less than the expected jail term of between 22 months and 30 years.

However, Judge Jeffrey Colbath said he should be jailed for violating a sacred trust, and he described the crime as “greed unmasked”. He added “There was not a shred of moral necessity to excuse the defendant’s crime.”

The men are accused of using the money to fund lavish lifestyles and to pay for gambling holidays and property investments.

Fr Skehan is also understood to have purchased a collection of gold coins worth some $300,000. He owned a pub in Co Kilkenny, a cottage in Co Clare, a penthouse condominium worth $455,000 in Singer Island, Florida, and another in Delray Beach.

The thefts took place over a period of years when Fr Skehan served as St Vincent’s parish priest, and continued when Fr Guinan took over as pastor five years ago. – (Additional reporting Reuters)


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