Fr. Joe LeClair Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Ottawa

Gambling Ottawa priest faces theft, fraud charges

  • July 4, 2012

OTTAWA - A popular Ottawa priest who admitted last year to a gambling addiction was charged July 3 with one count each of theft, fraud, criminal breach of trust and laundering the proceeds of crime.

Fr. Joe LeClair, 55, will appear in court July 25 to answer the charges related to the financial administration of Blessed Sacrament parish in Ottawa's Glebe neighbourhood.

The Ottawa Police Organized Fraud investigation allege more than $240,000 in parish cheques were "misappropriated by the parish priest, Joseph LeClair," according to a July 3 news release, and "over $160,000 in cash revenues were unaccounted for." The investigation reviewed parish finances from January 2006 to May 2011.

The police launched the investigation after the Ottawa archdiocese filed a complaint last summer after independent auditors examined parish finances in early 2011.

"Given the many people that Fr. LeClair has assisted as well as the several parishes which he has pastored during his 25 years of ministry, today is a sad day for our local Church in Ottawa," said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast in a statement. "Many people, in our Catholic community and beyond, will be hurt and disappointed by this news.

"The events concerning Fr. LeClair which have come to light over the past year have obliged us to review our expectations of priests, as well as our care of them."

The archbishop pointed out priests "are in a position of trust" that includes "proper and transparent" administration of money and other goods from parishioners and donors.

Since the problems at Blessed Sacrament came to light, the archdiocese has launched a new financial protocol stressing greater controls, accountability and review, he said.

In April 2011, LeClair apologized to his parish and admitted to having a gambling addiction after the Ottawa Citizen published a series of articles about personal credit card bills of more than $490,000 and cash advances on his credit card at a casino in Quebec. But LeClair stressed he never used parish funds to feed his gambling habit.

LeClair is credited with reviving Blessed Sacrament from a nearly empty parish to a thriving community.

The archbishop urged the Catholic community to pray for both LeClair and the faithful of Blessed Sacrament parish who "have been particularly burdened and pained by what has happened over the last year."

Ottawa Police Organized Fraud Section Sgt. Richard Dugal urged all charitable organizations to have "clear and up-to-date fiscal management practices," that include "proper checks and balances and an arm's length regular review process."

"Many such organizations rely on volunteers and well-meaning individuals to assist but without proper fiscal management practices, it leaves the organizations vulnerable to abuse," Dugal said.

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