New Seminarian Has Been Asked to Leave As He Battles Fraud Accusations

By Bruce Nolan
The Times-Picayune
January 9, 2012

In September, Chad Ham, 47, entered Notre Dame Seminary to begin studies for the priesthood. Now, he has been asked to leave the seminary as he tries to clear his name in several civil lawsuits alleging he bilked people out of money.

In an unusual move, Archbishop Gregory Aymond has asked an aspiring priest to withdraw from Notre Dame Seminary after learning he was accused in several lawsuits of helping a controversial mortgage company bilk customers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Chad Ham, 47, a real estate lawyer who entered Notre Dame in the fall, said he can prove the charges are untrue. Aymond said he and Ham agreed during the Christmas break that Ham should withdraw, at least temporarily. Aymond said he told Ham he is free to seek re-entry if he clears his name.

Aymond, who was a seminary rector for 14 years before becoming archbishop, said Ham’s case is “highly, highly unusual,” but because of the seminary’s mission, candidates for the priesthood must be “above reproach.”

Ten years after the searing Catholic sex abuse scandal came to light, Notre Dame, like other seminaries, has stiffened its applicant screening process, requiring that candidates go through heightened psychological testing, in addition to providing the usual character and academic references.

While Ham disclosed the civil suits against him from the outset, Aymond said the church did not have its own lawyers check the court records, underestimating the depth and complexity of the litigation.

The archdiocese is seriously considering adding such a review to its screening process, Aymond said.

Besides the civil suits, several of the litigants and their lawyers say they have been interviewed by federal agents about alleged criminal schemes involving Ham and some former employees of the now-closed Hammond office of Allied Home Mortgage Capital Corp. Ham, who worked in private practice, frequently handled closings for Allied.

The U.S. Secret Service, which investigates mortgage fraud, would not confirm whether Ham or former local Allied employees are the subjects of a federal criminal inquiry.

'I am not that guy' depicted in the civil complaints, Chad Ham says.

Nationally, however, federal prosecutors in Manhattan sued Allied and its two top executives in November over a range of allegedly deceptive lending practices, charging that the company duped thousands of borrowers into loans they could not afford, costing federal taxpayers nearly $1 billion in insurance.

Aymond also said that not long after Ham joined the seminary, its rector and another priest received calls from Greg Gavins of the U.S. Secret Service, warning them that Ham was accused of fraud.

The seminary did not act on the call because Ham had said some of his accusers might seek to defame him personally. Skeptical that the call was authentic, church officials did not attempt to check further with the Secret Service, Aymond said.

Gavins declined to say whether he made such a call.

Customers began filing lawsuits against Ham, Allied and some of the company’s Hammond employees in 2008, alleging the parties forged their sales transactions, wrecked their credit ratings, and stole money for home purchases or refinancings.

The litigation includes lawsuits in Orleans and Tangipahoa parishes, as well as Ham’s 2009 personal bankruptcy, in which four companies or individuals claimed Ham defrauded them.

So far the three-year tangle of allegations has yielded no trials, no civil verdicts and no indictments.

“He certainly destroyed a lot of peoples’ lives,” said Marx Sterbcow, a lawyer representing Sarada LeBourgeois, a Mandeville woman who claims Ham and Allied cheated her out of about $300,000 in a 2006 refinancing.

“If he’s made a priest, I will never set foot in church again,” said Ashley DePaula, a litigant in a Tangipahoa suit.

But Ham claims he was victimized as well.

He said he discovered that several former employees in the Hammond office were providing him instructions at acts of sale that furthered their schemes. He also said his email and escrow accounts were hacked and his signature was forged on real estate documents.

Ham said he even went to Allied higher-ups and federal authorities in 2009 to blow the whistle on systematic frauds coming from the Hammond office.

Then last summer, Ham decided to enter studies for the priesthood, after years of church-related volunteer work at Good Shepherd Parish in New Orleans.

Aymond said Ham’s seminary application was endorsed by several pastors, and like other applicants, Ham went through several layers of interviews, passed a criminal background check and underwent extensive psychological testing.

Aymond said Ham disclosed the litigation surrounding him, professed his innocence and directed church officials to his lawyers. The archbishop expected the controversy around Ham to be cleared up before or shortly after his enrollment.

But the seminary did not have its own experts check the court records, which reveal a situation more complex than Aymond imagined, he said.

Aymond said he has never seen a seminarian pass through the church’s regular screening filters, only to find civil litigation posing a serious problem.

While he continues to believe Ham is a man of good character, Aymond said, “there’s no way he can invest himself in (spiritual) formation with this thing hanging over his head.”

Ham and Nancy Marshall, the lawyer defending him in the civil litigation, said they are confident that records will clear Ham of every accusation of wrongdoing.

“I am not that guy” depicted in civil complaints, Ham said recently.

“This isn’t uncommon, to treat the person who tries to dig into everybody’s business to get to the bottom of something (as) the one everybody hates,” he said.

Bruce Nolan can be reached at or 504.826.3344.








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