Parishioners Outraged as DA Drops Investigation of Former Island Priest

December 5, 2017

The Bronx District Attorney’s office has announced [read the press release] that it is closing its investigation into Father Peter Miqueli, a Catholic priest who served on Roosevelt Island from 2001 to 2012 and who was accused of stealing more than $1 million from his parishes. Former parishioners, however, say they won’t give up and will continue to push for investigations into the priest’s actions by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, in whose jurisdiction they say most of the alleged crimes occurred. 

 

Two years ago, a group of Roman Catholic parishioners, in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, filed a lawsuit against Miqueli, their then pastor. Three parishioners from Roosevelt Island, where Miqueli had previously served as priest, joined the action as plaintiffs. They charged Miqueli with misuse of funds contributed by parishioners.

 

Now, according to the Archdiocese of New York (ADNY) in a letter written by Most Reverend Gerald T. Walsh to the Bronx parishioners, Bronx District Attorney, Darcel D. Clark, declared her investigation closed after requiring the repayment of some “misappropriated” funds. [Read the full letter.]

 

Jim Corbett, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and a spokesperson for the Bronx group calling itself The Concerned Parishioners of St. Frances de Chantal, accused the ADNY of sweeping the priest’s misdeeds under the rug, telling The WIRE, “A cover-up by the ADNY and collusion with the Bronx and also the Manhattan DA’s may be involved.” 

 

Accusations against Father Peter Miqueli made front page headlines after The WIRE reported its investigation in 2015.

 

Miqueli was the pastor of the St. Frances Xavier Cabrini parish on Roosevelt Island for eleven years before being transferred to St. Frances de Chantal in the Bronx. Corbett’s group has accused Miqueli of stealing parish funds, mistreating parishioners, and having an inappropriate relationship with a male prostitute. Corbett says the group tried for more than two years to have Miqueli removed as their pastor with little response from the Archdiocese. After a series of articles in The WIRE in the fall of 2015, the story was picked up by mainstream media and a lawsuit was filed on December 10 of that year. 

 

The WIRE articles reported on documents it obtained that appear to show forged signatures, inappropriate fund transfers and bank account closures, an excess of checks made out to Miqueli’s stipend fund (meant solely as the repository of honorariums to the pastor), as well as proof that Miqueli paid cash for a $254,000 home in New Jersey while serving as a priest here.

 

Walsh’s letter, dated October 26, 2017, states that Bronx District Attorney Clark closed the investigation after issuing a directive that Miqueli repay $22,000 to the de Chantal parish. “This is a far cry from the $1 million to $2 million that were alleged to have been misappropriated by Father Miqueli from parish funds,” writes Walsh.

 

But The Concerned Parishioners of St. Frances de Chantal points out that the Bronx DA’s investigation likely did not address the allegations made regarding the priest’s tenure on Roosevelt Island. In a November 10 letter [read the letter], the group wrote, “The million+ theft allegation came from the Roosevelt Island parish, St. Frances Cabrini. As such, the Bronx DA could not have investigated the large theft [due to lack of jurisdiction to do so]. We recommend that you contact Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance and demand an investigation into Miqueli’s enviable $700,000+ portfolio which he amassed during his career as a humble priest and pastor.” The WIRE’s investigation showed that the Cabrini Thrift Shop alone often generated $1,000 to $3,000 in revenue per week.

 

Patrice O’Shaughnessy, from DA Clark’s office, told The WIRE that several de Chantal parishioners were interviewed about the theft allegations before deciding to close the case. 

 

Corbett, however, says he and other members of his group were not contacted. “Why didn’t anyone from the Bronx DA’s office interview those of us that they were told had seen, or were in possession of, evidence: large stacks of money on Miqueli’s rectory apartment floor, copies of his substantial stock portfolio, proof he paid cash for his home in New Jersey?” asks Corbett. “Why didn’t they investigate or ask where all that money came from? I believe a priest at Miqueli’s level earns about $32,000 per year!”

 

In a separate letter from Walsh, addressed to Monsignor John Graham, current pastor at de Chantal, Walsh shared the DA’s recommendation for more stringent financial controls, procedures that the de Chantal group points out are already clearly stated in the Policies and Procedures Manual issued to every parish priest by the ADNY. 

 

In their written response, the de Chantal parishioners expressed outrage that Miqueli was still being paid a salary, which the ADNY says Canon Law requires, demanding, “Does Canon Law have nothing to say about prosecution for Grand Larceny?”

 

Speaking to The WIRE for this report, Corbett points out that the ADNY did its own audit of the de Chantal parish and determined only that some “sloppy bookkeeping” had taken place. “Why,” he asks, “did they not at least find the $22,000 discrepancy that the DA did?” 

 

Corbett is also skeptical of Walsh’s claim that the ADNY did what they could to investigate Miqueli’s alleged salacious behavior, as reported in the media. In his letter to parishioners, Walsh wrote, “The archdiocese has attempted to investigate the other, more sensational accusations of morally abhorrent behavior but, to date, nothing has been brought forward to substantiate them, and Father Miqueli continues to deny them.” 

 

Jack Lynch, a member of the de Chantal group, disputes Walsh’s assertion of a thorough investigation by the ADNY. He says that Tatyana Gudin, a woman who says that her former boyfriend, Keith Crist, was Miqueli’s gay-for-pay pal, offered to present evidence, including photos, emails, and text messages. (Miqueli allegedly hired Crist to operate the former parish Thrift Shop on Roosevelt Island, and to perform other duties at de Chantal.) According to Lynch, Gudin was prepared to present her evidence, in the company of Lynch, to an ADNY attorney, James McCabe, but backed out when the ADNY specified that she would be required to come to the meeting unaccompanied. On Lynch’s advice, and fearing her evidence might be confiscated, Gudin cancelled the meeting.

 

In their letter to Walsh, the de Chantal parishioners say they did not wish to focus on this scandal, yet again, but are dismayed that “the ADNY did not address it honestly for over a dozen years” despite ADNY claims that it gave the Miqueli matter full cooperation. “We are steadfast and faithful Catholics,” the letter continues. “We insist upon a prompt response to the challenges and questions in this letter.”

 

The allegations from Roosevelt Island parishioners, which include forgery, embezzlement, and more, have never been addressed. 

 

“I wonder whether the ADNY will ask the Manhattan DA to investigate or if they will continue to whitewash the situation,” said Corbett. “I hope that [Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus] Vance will be pressured into pursuing the Miqueli case, especially since he has recently come under fire for not prosecuting movie producer Harvey Weinstein in 2015.” Corbett concluded, “We are not going to give up on this. We hope someone will do the right thing.”

 

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