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Priests accused of stealing offerings, face judge

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Two priests who authorities say stole cash from their Florida church’s offering plate for years and hid it in the church ceiling and offshore bank accounts to pay for lavish lifestyles will soon face a judge.

Their trial is scheduled to start Wednesday in an embezzlement case authorities say could be one of the biggest to hit the U.S. Catholic Church.

Before prosecutors could charge them with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, the Rev. Francis Guinan and Monsignor John Skehan fled the country in 2006.

Skehan’s attorney wrote in a recent court filing that an “amicable resolution” has been reached in his client’s case that will be presented to the court Wednesday. Skehan attorney Scott Richardson did not return several calls for comment.

Guinan, 66, is accused of stealing $488,000 during the 19 months after he became pastor in September 2003. Skehan, who had been at the church 40 years, is accused of taking $370,000 between 2001 and 2006, the timeframe under which he can be charged because of a statute of limitations. Auditors think he stole more than $8 million over 20 years. Both face up to 30 years if convicted.

Prosecutors say the priests plucked cash from the offering plate and spent it on upscale homes, gambling trips to Las Vegas with a mistress, even a $275,000 rare coin collection.

Both priests are free on bond after pleading not guilty to grand theft.

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