Former Priest Charged with Stealing Church Funds and Deceiving Parishioners

By Doug Erickson
Wisconsin State Journal
September 28, 2010

The former priest of a Watertown church was charged Tuesday with two felonies for allegedly stealing church funds and deceiving parishioners into giving him money for bogus reasons.

The Rev. Thomas Marr allegedly told parishioners at St. Bernard Catholic Church he needed money to help people down on their luck.

Instead, he invested the money and $160,000 from his own savings with parishioner Arthur Eith, who claimed the money would help secure the release of millions of dollars due Eith from Nigeria, according to the criminal complaint.

Marr, 65, was charged in Jefferson County Circuit Court with one count of theft in a business setting and one count of theft by fraud. However, the criminal complaint suggests Marr's efforts at raising money were much more extensive. It lists 21 church families he allegedly convinced to give him a total of $163,800.

Previously, church and Madison Catholic Diocese officials had estimated more than 30 individuals had lost about $400,000. In a March search warrant related to the case, Marr estimated he'd given Eith $613,000.

The diocese removed Marr from St. Bernard's in July of last year due to concerns about parish finances. For about the last nine months, he has been living at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Madison and assisting with "sacramental needs only," such as celebrating Mass and visiting the sick, said diocesan spokesman Brent King.

Marr declined comment through King. The filing of criminal charges does not immediately affect Marr's status as a "priest in residence" at the Madison church, King said.

In the two counts detailed in the complaint, Marr is accused of stealing more than $10,000 from church accounts and of soliciting $11,000 under false pretenses from Larry and Amelia Dittman.

He allegedly told the Dittmans he needed the money for an emergency loan to a farm family and that he would repay them. But Marr turned the money over to Eith, the complaint said.

Eith had convinced Marr that Eith had invested over $3 million in a Nigerian scheme that would pay out $35.5 million. Eith claimed that he would pay Marr back, plus donate $1 million to St. Bernard's, the complaint said.

Eith has not been charged. An investigation is ongoing, said Bill Cosh, spokesman for the state Department of Justice. Eith has been convicted twice of federal bank fraud, once in 1991 and again in 2007, according to federal court records.

Eith said Tuesday he was "devastated" by news of Marr being charged. He declined further comment. | 608-252-6149


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