Pa. priest gets 11-23 months for embezzlement - abc27 WHTM

Pa. priest gets 11-23 months for embezzlement

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Father Caesar A. Belchez Father Caesar A. Belchez

A parish priest will spend up to 23 months in prison for embezzling more than $384,000 from a central Pennsylvania church.

Father Caesar A. Belchez, 52, of New Freedom, was sentenced Monday after he pleaded guilty to one count of theft by unlawful taking and one count of access device fraud, according to Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors withdrew two other theft counts.

Belchez will spend at least 11-and-a-half months in prison for taking $384,750 from the St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Bonneauville, where he had been assigned between 2006 and 2011.

Prosecutors said he embezzled nearly $312,000 in cash and made an additional $72,766 in unauthorized purchases with credit cards issued to the parish.

He is required to pay the money back, and on Monday made a first payment of $70,000, Wagner said.

Belchez must also serve five years probation for the theft charge and seven years probation for the count of access device fraud.

Joseph Aponick, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, said Belchez has been removed from all ministry. He said Belchez's past actions and crimes makes a return to ministry unlikely.

"In the case of his sentence, we have not asked for leniency but simply that his cooperation and contrition be taken into account," Aponick said in a statement. "Justice must be served and in a spirit of forgiveness we stand ready to support him spiritually."

According to prosecutors, Belchez would have faced up to 21 years in prison if he had been convicted on all counts.

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