Disgraced Priest Assigned to Paterson Parish

PATERSON, NJ - A priest who pleaded guilty to taking more than $63,000 from his Morris County parish has come to Paterson to do charity work until his sentencing in February. But church officials have refused to say which parish the priest is staying at and exactly what work he'll be doing.

Richard Sokerka, spokesman for the Diocese of Paterson, said Monsignor Patrick Brown's assignment to a parish in the city is simply a living arrangement, and that he will not be performing mass or other duties with the congregation. Nor would Brown have access to the parish's funds, he said. "He needed a place to live,'' Sokerka said. As for the charity work, Sokerka said it would not be through the parish, but through an outside group.
Why was the disgraced priest sent to the city of Paterson? "He wanted to help people and there's a lot of people in Paterson in need of help,'' said Sokerka. "And he's helped people in Paterson before when he was with the church in Stirling." Brown had done fund-raising for city parishes, he said. Paterson has 16 Roman Catholic parishes, according to the diocese.
 
Brown pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion charges on November 3, admitting he used tens of thousands of dollars in parish funds for his own benefit, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney in Newark
 

Brown, 59, became pastor of St. Vincent de Paul in Parish in Stirling in July 1992, according to federal authorities. As pastor, Brown was authorized to open accounts in the name of the parish, to decide into which accounts donations and other parish monies were deposited, and to determine how those monies were spent, the press release said. Just three days after becoming pastor, Brown opened a bank account funded primarily with parish funds, including money paid that was paid for cemetery plots at St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery and related funeral expenses, according to federal authorities.
 
"Brown misdirected the money, which should have been deposited into the Parish’s cemetery or perpetual care account, into the Chase Account,'' said the press release. "Brown kept the account open until October 2007, and kept it hidden from both the Parish and the Diocese. Brown did not disclose the account’s existence to the Diocese in the Parish’s required yearly financial disclosures or during any of the Diocese-directed financial reviews of the Parish, which occurred every three years.
 
"Between January 2004 and October 2007, Brown used the Chase Account to fund a number of personal expenditures, including tens of thousands of dollars paid to himself – as well as his mother, siblings, and other family members as gifts, including for Christmas and birthdays,'' continued the U.S. Attorney's release. "He also paid tens of thousands of dollars toward his personal credit card. Charges on that credit card included vacations in Vail, Colorado; Hawaii; and Ireland.''
 
After closing the first account, Brown opened a second, also using parish funds, " using it to pay for work done on his personal residence in Budd Lake, N.J., and to pay his credit card bills – including charges for a personal trip to Sun Valley, Idaho. Between 2004 and June 2009, Brown used at least $63,706.24 in Parish monies for personal expenditures,'' according to the press release.
 
Brown, who was chaplain at the Morris County jail and gave the invocation at many Morris County freeholder meetings, was a prodigious fund-raiser for Catholic causes, according to a Star-Ledger story. He sat on the board of 11 charity groups and church officials said he tapped Wall Street executive to donate to struggling schools in Paterson and Passaic, the story said.
 
Brown resigned from the Stirling parish in October, about a week before he pleaded guilty in federal court. He also paid back the parish the $63,706, as required under the plea agreement, according to the diocese.
 
On the day of Brown's guilty plea, the diocese released a six-paragraph statement.
 
"To the great number of people who respect Monsignor Brown and hold him in high esteem for his many good works, this admission brings sorrow and pain,'' the statement said. "His leadership of Saint Vincent DePaul Parish and involvement with numerous charities is well‐known.''
 
Brown's sentencing is scheduled for February 9. When asked about Brown's future as a priest, Sokerka said, "We'll know more about that after February.''
 

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