Cops Find Big Clue in Ceiling of Alleged Crooked Priest

Police discover $63K stashed in the Rev. Jonathan Wehrle's ceiling
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 19, 2018 11:55 AM CDT
In Priest Embezzlement Case, a Telling Discovery
In this undated photo released by the Ingham County Sheriff's Office, the Rev. Jonathan Wehrle is shown.   (Ingham County Sheriff's Office via AP)

A Catholic priest is charged with embezzling more than $5 million from his Michigan parish—and on Tuesday, police say they found $63,392 in cash above ceiling tiles in his basement. The Rev. Jonathan Wehrle was charged with six counts of embezzlement last year after a diocese-ordered audit found millions missing from the coffers of St. Martha Parish and School, of which the 67-year-old was pastor, the Detroit News reported earlier this year. Wehrle, who made $42,000 a year, somehow managed to build an 11,300-square-foot mansion worth $3 million to $4 million, and police performed their second search of it Tuesday, USA Today reports. The money they allegedly found was mostly bundles of $20 bills marked as being from the parish.

More than $1.1 million in assets have been seized so far in connection with the investigation, police say. Wehrle is accused of using parish funds to pay for furnishings, work, and materials at his home, which features eight bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, an indoor swimming pool, an elevator, a library, a wine cellar, crystal chandeliers, and stained glass windows. Opus Bono, a charity that raises money to help priests, recently circulated a letter seeking to raise $300,000 for Wehrle's legal defense, calling this "quite literally an apocalyptic moment" for the priest seeing as his frozen assets leave him unable to pay for a "competent defense," the Lansing State Journal reports. Police say Wehrle had sole access to parish finances, and had been embezzling from the church for at least 19 years. His trial is scheduled for next month. (Read more embezzlement stories.)

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