A priest accused of embezzling nearly $385,000 from his former church in rural Pennsylvania was arrested Thursday, Adams Co. District Attorney Shawn Wagner said.
The Pennsylvania State Police arrested the Rev. Caesar A. Belchez, of New Freedom, Pa., on three counts of felony theft after a prolonged investigation that began in 2011, after Belchez left Saint Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Bonneauville, Pa., after about five years presiding over the rural parish.
Belchez left the parish of about 400 families in 2011 in a routine transfer of priests, said Joseph Aponick, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg.
"That's when the new priest noticed things weren't the way they should be," Aponick told ABCnews.com. "He discovered what appeared to be malfeasance."
The parish's new priest, the Rev. Augusty Valomchalil, reported the financial irregularities to the diocese, which, in turn, contacted state police, Aponick said.
Police, the district attorney, and the diocese then launched an investigation, the diocese said. It discovered, among other irregularities, an unauthorized transfer of money between church accounts and accounts in Belchez's name, including an eTrade account, according to court documents. The documents charge that Belchez embezzled $311,983.95 and made an additional $72,766.81 in unauthorized credit card charges.
According to court documents, Belchez confessed to the crimes at the time of his interview by the Pa. state police.
Belchez has been released on $50,000 unsecured bail and was forced to forfeit his passport as he awaits a preliminary hearing later this month.
Belchez declined to request a public defender according to the court docket and it's unclear if he has hired an attorney. He has not entered a plea yet.
Aponick called the alleged crime an isolated incident.
"The bishop is very concerned," he said, "and wants to make it known that money entrusted to the church is used with absolute responsibility."
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