Worcester retired priest allegedly involved in dating websites fraud

By Brian Lee
Telegram & Gazette
August 27, 2015

WORCESTER – The retired Roman Catholic priest who recently pleaded not guilty to federal money laundering charges was allegedly involved in an elaborate scheme to defraud women interested in dating websites, according to an initial detention order from U.S. District Court in Tampa.

A grand jury in Massachusetts recently returned an indictment charging the Rev. Thomas B. Fleming with 12 counts of money laundering. He faces a maximum of 20 years' imprisonment, a federal prosecutor said.

The indictment alleges offenses from January 2013 to April 2014, and the government estimates the losses are around $140,000, presumably much of the money sent to Nigeria, the detention order said.

On July 21, when the government questioned whether the Rev. Fleming had fled to Florida to avoid arrest, a Florida judge ordered him held pending trial. 

But when the Rev. Fleming was brought to U.S. District Court in Worcester for his arraignment on Aug. 14, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark J. Grady said it was learned that there had been no avoidance purpose to his trip to Florida. 

Magistrate Judge David H. Hennessy, who was initially going to hold the Rev. Fleming on $5,000 bond, released him on a $25,000 unsecured bond.

Defense lawyer Miriam Conrad said the priest had been visiting a friend in Florida, and does on a yearly basis.

Ms. Conrad said the Rev. Fleming has no criminal record, is a lifelong resident of Worcester residing in his childhood home and is indigent. She said he is no longer receiving retirement pay.

The indictment alleges that he claimed more than $91,000 in wire transfers from three states, and sent $2,500 to Nigerian accounts during the past two years from what the indictment described as the proceeds of unlawful activity. 

In addition to Nigeria, the alleged scheme involves participants in Connecticut, Illinois and California, according to the five-page indictment. 

The Rev. Fleming retired in July 2014. He was ordained in 1976, and his more recent assignments included being the pastor of St. Francis Church in Bolton (before it was merged with St. Theresa the Little Flower Church in Harvard), chaplain at UMass Memorial Medical Center, and associate pastor at St. Joseph Church in Charlton. In 2010, he was assigned to the emergency response ministry, helping at different parishes as needs arose, prior to his retirement, a diocese spokesman has said.



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