DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — One year later, members of St. Peter Catholic Church in Huber Heights have some answers after their former pastor pleads guilty to aggravated theft of more than one million dollars.
An investigation was launched into financial irregularities at the church after an ethics complaint was brought to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in February 2015.
Father Earl Simone appeared in court Thursday to take a plea deal. He will have to serve five years in prison and pay more than $1.9 million back to St. Peter.
“Every year, we are redeemed by the sacrifice Christ made for those who are sinners, those who are good, those who are His people, His creation. Easter is our resurrection,” stated Simone as he arrived at the courthouse Thursday afternoon.
Only 2 NEWS cameras were rolling as he was helped out of a van and into his wheelchair and made his way inside Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.
The 75-year-old priest admitted to stealing more than one million dollars from St. Peter Church over a 20 year period. Based on parish records, church officials estimate the amount of money taken was much higher.
“We estimate somewhere in the vicinity of three to four million dollars,” said Father Tony Cutcher, current pastor of St. Peter Church. “This money has been gone for years, and we have been able to not only survive, but thrive without it.”
After Simone resigned and went on medical retirement in April 2015, Cutcher was called to St. Peter to turn over a new leaf.
“It’s their money. They have every right to know what we’re doing with it, whether it is building a ministry or building a building,” said Cutcher.
Cutcher said Simone was buying properties as a way to generate income for the parish. St. Peter incurred debt when the church built the Family Life Center many years ago. Cutcher said Simone was flipping houses to get out of that debt.
“People can make him out to be a bad guy, but in his heart, he had the best intentions of the parish at heart. He wanted us out from under than debt,” stated Cutcher.
As the church begins to bounce back, Simone said for the people who need prayer during this time, “They have it.”
Sentencing is set for April 22.