Pennsylvania State Police have arrested a priest who lives in New Freedom on embezzlement charges from Adams County, Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner has announced.
The Rev. Caesar Belchez, 52, of 315 N. Constitution Ave., is charged with embezzling a total of $384,750.76 from St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Bonneauville between 2006 and 2011, according to Wagner.
Belchez could not be reached for comment.
Wagner said Belchez has been charged with theft by unlawful taking or disposition, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received and access device fraud, which are all third-degree felonies.
Belchez is accused of embezzling $311,983.95 in money and using - without authorization - $72,766.81 from the parish's credit cards, which the parish used for the purchase of goods and services, according Wagner.
If convicted of embezzlement charges, Belchez faces maximum sentences of 21 years' incarceration and $45,000 in fines.
Belchez was arraigned Thursday before Magisterial District Judge Daniel Bowman, who set bail at $50,000, with the requirement that he forfeit his U.S. passport, Wagner said.
Belchez's preliminary hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 21, at Adams County Center Court, Wagner said.
The Harrisburg Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church cooperated in the investigation by conducting an extensive forensic audit to determine the amount of funds allegedly taken by Belchez, Wagner said.
The diocese began investigating Belchez on July 20, 2011, after being contacted by the Rev. Augusty Valomchalil, who noticed irregularities in St. Joseph the Worker's parish accounts a month after being assigned as the parish's new pastor, according to a statement posted on the diocesan website at www.hggdiocese.org.
Seeing the severity of the matter, the diocesan officials reported their findings to the Adams County District Attorney's office and the state police, the diocese said.
Belchez, who pastored St. Joseph the Worker's parish for five years, had already been named new pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Dallastown in June 2011, according to the diocese.
The diocese adhered to police and the DA's office requests to not inform Belchez of the situation, as to not compromise the investigation.
On Nov. 15, 2011, Diocesan Bishop Joseph P. McFadden removed Belchez from the office of pastor and from priestly ministry, the diocese said.
Belchez was ordained a priest in 1995. St. Joseph the Worker parish was his fifth assignment, but the first place where he had control of a ministry's fiscal resources, according to the diocese.
The diocese also said it is working with an insurance carrier to reimburse parish's losses.