Wealthy Akron Priest to Face Judgment Day in Court on Tax Charges

By Peter Krouse
Plain Dealer
October 18, 2010

The Rev. Samuel Ciccolini, right, a Catholic priest who founded an alcohol and drug rehab center in Akron, with his lawyer, Peter Cahoon, as they arrive at the federal courthouse in Cleveland for his arraignment in July.

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A wealthy Akron priest could receive up to two years in prison Wednesday for skirting banking laws and filing a false tax return unless a judge grants him mercy.

To get it, the Rev. Samuel Ciccolini, who is known throughout the community as Father Sam, may have some explaining to do.

Ciccolini, 68, the founder of the Interval Brotherhood Home, pleaded guilty in July to the federal charges. But before imposing a sentence, U.S. District Judge James Gwin wants a better explanation of Ciccolini's behavior and how he came into his wealth.

One charge stems from the deceptive way Ciccolini deposited more than $1 million in cash with local banks. He had previously kept the money in boxes inside the rectory where he lived.

The other charge involves the siphoning of money from a foundation set up to benefit the Interval Brotherhood Home, a drug and alcohol treatment center run by Ciccolini since its inception 40 years ago. Ciccolini returned the money he took from the foundation, was not charged with theft and by all accounts lives a simple life.

He still faces a prison term of 18 to 24 months -- based on federal sentencing guidelines -- unless Judge Gwin decides Ciccolini merits exceptional consideration.

Gwin stated in a recent court order that he wants more answers about the source of Ciccolini's wealth and to know that the priest has properly accepted responsibility for his actions given a statement he made in private to the court that "he did not have any criminal intent."

Gwin suggested at Ciccolini's pleading in July that the cash the priest illegally deposited in 2003 had been embezzled.

Ciccolini contends the deposits were of his own money, accumulated over the years from his salary, donations, inheritances and the like. He hoarded the money in boxes in part because that is how he handled his finances while taking care of his mother and siblings as a young man, according to his sentencing memorandum.

Ciccolini says he began putting his cash in the bank in 2003 after hearing a report about changes to the appearance of U.S. currency that he believed might devalue the bills he kept in his room. He then learned from a banker that the Internal Revenue Service required a special report for each cash deposit of $10,000 or more. As a result, Ciccolini then made 139 structured deposits at banks between April and June of 2003 to avoid the disclosures.

"Sam did not want to have to explain to the Internal Revenue Service or anyone else where the cash came from," states a sentencing memorandum filed on his behalf. "Nor did he want the public to think he or [Interval Brotherhood Home] had a lot of money. Sam has always been a very private person when it comes to his own money, and he was inappropriately secretive when it came to these deposits."

The other charge against Ciccolini involves a separate stash of money. He admitted that he transferred about $900,000 in Interval Brotherhood Home Foundation money into private accounts that he controlled from 2002 to 2006 and that he failed to declare the money as income for tax purposes.

Prosecutors argue in their sentencing memorandum that the transfers were made in an elaborate and deceptive manner. Ciccolini tried to cover his tracks by claiming to pay expenses for work that was done by volunteers, the memorandum states. Money he claimed to have paid to contractors was actually deposited in his accounts.

The trustees of the foundation were not interested in going after Ciccolini because no money was lost, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Bulford said. The priest returned all $900,000, plus some additional transfers, after learning of the investigation, Bulford said.

"There's no victim screaming, you know, 'Someone took my money,' " Bulford said.

Ciccolini is on leave from the center pending resolution of his case, which floored many in the Akron community when it came to light in July.

"I think it's the last thing people would have seen coming down the pike," said Jerry Craig, interim executive director of the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.

The board provides 80 percent of the Interval Brotherhood Home's $4 million operating budget. The Interval Brotherhood Home Foundation, from which Ciccolini funneled money to his own accounts, is a separate entity that pays for equipment, maintenance and construction at the center. Most of the foundation's money comes from private donations.

Ciccolini blames his actions on being in "an incorrect state of mind" when he transferred the money from the foundation to his own accounts, according to his sentencing memorandum. He believed he was entitled to take control of foundation funds because it was his goodwill that caused people to donate to the foundation in the first place, court documents state.

Ciccolini founded the Interval Brotherhood Home in 1970 after writing a thesis on addiction while at seminary. Since then more than 12,000 people have completed the organization's treatment program, according to Tim Killian, president of the foundation's board of trustees.

Killian said he replaced Ciccolini as foundation president at Ciccolini's request after learning he was being investigated in 2008. He said he would wait until Ciccolini is sentenced before making any comment.

While Ciccolini's fate is uncertain, the future of the Interval Brotherhood Home appears by all accounts to be secure.

"We've had no issues with [the group] and the quality of services they've provided," Craig said, "and nothing's happened to change that."

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