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December 1, 2015

You be the judge: what federal sentence for beloved elderly preist who embezzled half-million dollars?

Fatheredwardbelczakashxjpg-79869763239fae48This local article, headlined "Dozens ask judge for mercy in sentencing of embezzling Detroit-area Catholic priest," provides the interesting backstory for an interesting federal sentencing scheduled for late today. Here are the basics:

A beloved Catholic priest in Troy was scorned when allegations came forth that he embezzled more than $500,000 from church coffers.  Rev. Edward A. Belczak, 70, admitted to diverting $572,775 collected by the church, most of which he kept in a secret private bank account.  He also spent $109,570 to purchase a Florida condo in 2005.

Despite the admissions, dozens of people, including many of the parishioners he defrauded, have come forward to ask for a lenient sentence on behalf of the priest who headed St. Thomas More church in Troy from 1984 until 2013. He's scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.

Belczak pleaded guilty to mail fraud as part of the plea agreement. In exchange, the U.S. Attorneys Office dismissed more serious charges and asked U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow to sentence Belczak to just over three years in prison.

Attorney John J. Morad, a friend and supporter of the priest, thinks any prison time is too much. "He made a terrible mistake and I know that he is embarrassed, ashamed and humiliated by the fact that he disappointed so many people who have grown to love and respect him for the work he has done among the people," Morad wrote in a letter to the judge. " ... I know he has confessed his sins and I'm certain God has forgiven him. Should we do anything less?"

The defense has asked for home detention, while sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of between 33 and 41 months.  The theft from the church is believed to have occurred between 2004 and 2012.

UPDATE This Detroit Free-Press article about the sentencing of Father Belczak report on the basic outcome via its headline: "Embezzling priest gets 27 months: 'It's .. my destiny'"

December 1, 2015 at 08:32 AM | Permalink


The public pays the lawyer and its agents for physical and economic safety. Does this person need to be in a cage, at considerable expense, likely more expensive than the condo he bought?


When calculating damages, I have advocated a deduction for the benefits of the act. In this case, the person brought benefits such as church expansion, which likely dwarfed his theft.

I could not find any numbers about returned money, nor about his potential to return the money if kept outside of prison. These are important for the benefit of church members. In choosing between sending him to prison for vengeance and getting money back, it is easy. Retributionists would not care about helping the church members. That is among the features that makes them execrable.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 1, 2015 9:50:33 AM

A no-brainer: five years! Lock up the sanctimonious hypocrite.

Posted by: anon12 | Dec 1, 2015 11:06:32 AM

Off with his head.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Dec 1, 2015 1:45:33 PM

Probation. The relevant or pertinent 3553(a) factors:

1. Retribution and just punishment: victims want leniency,
2. Rehabilitation: Prison is not supposed to be used for rehabilitation anyways and in any event he is over 70.
3. Deterrence: The humiliation has specifically deterred him. General deterrence? Prison is not good for that. Many academic studies support that. But the news papers might not be happy with probation.
4. Restitution: he is more likely to be able to pay restitution outside of prison rather than inside.

Result= Probation

Posted by: An attorney | Dec 1, 2015 2:53:58 PM

I don't know what the proper penalty would or should be. That is for his "victims" to play a major part in and not some holier than thou persecutors, I mean prosecutor and judge.

I do know that he has taken less from the 2000 families than the government has WASTED of MY tax dollars since 1984. Let's lock up all the "lawmakers, judges and their stooges", then we can have a more meaningful discussion regarding proper restitution.

Posted by: albeed | Dec 1, 2015 4:19:59 PM

This is the worst sect of white collar criminal. When they wear a reverse white collar they are untrustworthy.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Dec 1, 2015 7:44:11 PM

"1. Retribution and just punishment: victims want leniency"

Leniency means a lot of things. Probation is a rather great amount of it. Also, mail fraud specifically is clearly a public wrong. The victims beliefs only go so far. This is why, e.g., those who don't want the death penalty for certain offenders are at times disappointed.

"2. Rehabilitation: Prison is not supposed to be used for rehabilitation anyways and in any event he is over 70."

I don't know why prison cannot be used for rehabilitation and to me that is incorrect anyhow. Prison at any rate repeatedly IS used for it -- many people change in prison, get educated etc. specifically because they are detained & might not otherwise and in the process it helps their rehabilitation. This includes those who are older.

"3. Deterrence: The humiliation has specifically deterred him. General deterrence? Prison is not good for that. Many academic studies support that. But the news papers might not be happy with probation."

By what degree? People are humiliated many times. They manage to do bad things all the same. The second statement sounds too absolutist again. If liberty is so trivial that confinement does not deter, it is a bit curious we hold it so dear. The fear of prison would surely deter me. "Newspapers" have no special concern for me here. Various people would be unhappy with it. Seems a cheap shot really.

"4. Restitution: he is more likely to be able to pay restitution outside of prison rather than inside.?"

Perhaps, depending on how it is set up. But, some sort of work release would work there too. "Probation" is simply not confining him at all. Not necessary.

I would at least demand home detention though a year in some government half-way house type location and a year at home might work.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 1, 2015 10:01:04 PM

I have not seen extra judicial punishment addressed as a mitigating factor.

This defendant lost his reputation. Should that count? It may be more painful than prison.

Someone is burned setting up an arson. Should that count?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 2, 2015 11:05:27 AM

"The Rev. Edward Belczak was sentenced Tuesday to 27 months in prison for stealing $573,000 from the St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Troy, where he had served as pastor for almost 30 years.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow said a prison sentence was necessary to act as a deterrent to others because the Catholic priest was a community leader who was "stealing from the church and people who trusted you most."

Tarnow got the rationale precisely right: the priest stole "from he church and people who trusted you most." Tarnow gave the hyporcrite a break: 5 years would have been more just.

Posted by: anon12 | Dec 2, 2015 11:42:44 AM

To Joe:

1. Retribution: All federal and state offenses are "public wrongs." But let's not all act as victims or make the crime something it is not. He stole from certain individuals, those people are his victims.

2. Rehabilitation: You dont know? Then I suggest you visit a prison. In any event, the sentencing guidelines, as well as various statutes specifically tell judges NOT to sentence offenders to prison for purposes of rehabilitation. Only on TV and some select cases do offenders end up in a Martha Stewart type camp cupcake. The rest get mingled in with everybody else.

3. Deterrence: we are not talking about. Don't internalize everything. This guy is 70 years old. Countless academic studies have shown that the certainty of being caught and as opposed to sentencing length (the duration of imprisonment) is the key deterrence. And this makes sense: how many would-be offenders even know the statutory maximum or potential guideline sentence for their not-yet committed offense?

4. Restitution: There is no work release in the fed. Plus it would not be workable. Also, until there is some type of expungement law, or overall reform of restitution laws to take into account ability to pay, most restitution orders cannot ever be satisfied. Instead, what they really turn into is 20 years of additional punishment post-release.

Cheers. Enjoyed the exchange.

Posted by: An attorney | Dec 2, 2015 4:56:01 PM

1. It's still a public wrong. The victims specific desires only go so far.

2. I do not speak with some special knowledge but various accounts, including in the words of those who were in prison, suggest to me that rehabilitation is possible specifically tied to being in prison. If the rules say that, okay, though since in certain cases, prison as a factual matter very well might advance it.

3. Being caught and being punished would be the deterrent. If white racists in the South got caught and got no real punishment, it would not be much of a deterrent. I'm not internalizing everything. I'm stating a common principle -- actually being imprisoned is for many groups is a major burden and something they would avoid if they could. This is not about knowing the exact length; it is that prison is not nice & avoiding it deters. This includes for older people, especially elite types like this person, who would find it quite distasteful. Humiliation as noted only goes so far there. Probation is that much weaker for someone his age too than someone who is hurt more by the restraints.

4. I'm not sure about workability here -- the range of the possible is unclear to me. I'm not sure what restitution he will do outside either realistically. If he has some specific skills, he might be a use inside the prison system, which would provide a form of public restitution. Meanwhile, being confined might help deterrence etc. as well.

Some petty thief might be jail time and not a big time embezzler with a special level of trust for the community. As to his age, well off white guys at his age very well might be more healthy than others much younger than him.

Thanks for the replies.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 2, 2015 8:18:07 PM

Silly sentencing. Judge is a lawyer dumbass. His intelligence has been crippled by his legal education. As a taxpayer, I object to this big government rent seeker, wasting my money.

He should be removed from the bench for his stealing tax money on behalf of worthless government make work jobs rent seekers.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 3, 2015 9:11:55 AM

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