Father Simone pleads guilty to theft, plea deal includes jail time
Father Earl F. Simone, former pastor of St. Peter Church in Huber Heights, pleaded guilty Thursday, March 10 in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court to a charge of aggravated theft from the parish.
The investigation into financial irregularities at the parish was initiated by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati after receiving an ethics complaint in February 2015. That began a process that nears an end with today’s guilty plea.
Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr.’s office announced that Father Simone’s plea came as part of a deal between the Archdiocese and Huber Heights Police. It stipulates that Father Simone will serve five years of jail time with no early release, and will repay the parish $1.9 million. The official sentencing will come on April 22.
Archbishop of Cincinnati Dennis M. Schnurr issued a brief statement in a press released from the archdiocese Thursday afternoon.
“Service to the people of God as a pastor is a sacred trust,” Archbishop Schnurr said. “Father Simone’s violation of that trust has saddened and deeply disappointed me.
“When Archdiocesan staff members and I have visited St. Peter, we have been impressed by the vibrancy of the parish and school,” he added. “Our staff will do all that they can to help the parish move forward under the leadership of the current pastor, Rev. Anthony Cutcher, while continuing to pray for healing in the parish.”
Heck also released a statement.
“It is unfortunate that someone who had devoted their lifetime to the Church and to helping others succumbed to greed and ended up stealing from the very people he ministered to,” Heck said. “However, no one is above the law, and this defendant will be held accountable for his actions.”
Father Simone resigned from his role of pastor at St. Peter and three other parishes in April of 2015, retiring from active ministry at that time as well.
The Archdiocesan press release, which goes into further details about the investigation, follows:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 10, 2016
Former pastor pleads guilty to theft charge
Rev. Earl F. Simone, former pastor of St. Peter Church in Huber Heights, today pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court to a charge of aggravated theft from the parish.
“Service to the people of God as a pastor is a sacred trust,” said Most Reverend Dennis M. Schnurr, Archbishop of Cincinnati. “Fr. Simone’s violation of that trust has saddened and deeply disappointed me.
“When Archdiocesan staff members and I have visited St. Peter, we have been impressed by the vibrancy of the parish and school. Our staff will do all that they can to help the parish move forward under the leadership of the current pastor, Rev. Anthony Cutcher, while continuing to pray for healing in the parish.”
Fr. Simone, 75, ceased serving the parish in March 2015 and officially resigned as pastor of St. Peter and three other parishes in April. He also retired from active ministry at the same time. He does not receive a pension from the Archdiocese because he receives a full military pension for his prior service as an officer.
Officials of the Archdiocese received an ethics complaint regarding financial misconduct at St. Peter on Feb. 11, 2015. After a brief internal investigation, the Archdiocese reported the allegations to the local law enforcement authorities and retained an outside auditing firm with expertise in forensic accounting, as outlined in a March 18, 2015 press release.
Through the remainder of 2015, the forensic accounting firm hired by the Archdiocese, as well as an outside insurance consultant and Archdiocesan auditing staff, worked through bank records, credit card transactions, vendor invoices, and other financial records going back many years to determine the extent of the irregularities. Throughout this investigation, the Archdiocese regularly met with representatives of the Huber Heights Police Department and the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office to share information.
The forensic auditor hired by the Archdiocese has expanded the scope of the audit and is continuing to examine accounts going back over 20 years. Consequently, the extent of the alleged theft may exceed the amount determined by the Huber Heights Police. However, the financial loss to the parish will be limited to its $30,000 insurance deductible and any amount that exceeds the insurance limit of $3 million.
The Archdiocese has taken numerous steps in recent years to assist parishes with their financial controls, including the hiring of two full-time parish auditors, adding a confidential fraud hotline to report irregularities, installing a new standardized parish accounting system, and providing parishes with tools to help them secure collections.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati is the 38th largest Catholic diocese in the country, with almost 500,000 Catholics, and has the sixth largest network of Catholic schools in terms of enrollment. The 19-county territory includes 211 parishes and 111 Catholic primary and secondary schools.