$63,000 found in ceiling at home of Michigan priest accused of theft

$63,000 found in ceiling at home of Michigan priest accused of theft

$63,000 found in ceiling at home of Michigan priest accused of theft

In this Thursday, June 1, 2017 photo, Father Jonathan Wehrle appears in court for a preliminary hearing over embezzlement allegations at the 55th District Court in Mason, Michigan. (Credit: Julie Nagy/Lansing State Journal via AP.)

State police say they discovered $63,000 hidden above ceiling tiles in the home of a Michigan priest who is accused of embezzling millions.

WILLIAMSTON, Michigan — State police say they discovered $63,000 hidden above ceiling tiles in the home of a Michigan priest who is accused of embezzling millions.

The search was conducted Tuesday at Father Jonathan Wehrle’s luxury home in Williamston. Police say money was in $2,000 bundles secured with cash bands that said, “For Deposit Only-St. Martha Parish.”

Defense attorney Lawrence Nolan declined to comment and said he was withdrawing from the case.

Wehrle is charged with six counts of embezzling $100,000 or more from St. Martha Church in Okemos. He lived at a property worth more than $1 million. Trial is scheduled for Aug. 13.

Wehrle has claimed he had family money and an agreement with a bishop, now deceased, to use church funds for a private residence. Priests typically live in a rectory next to the church, but St. Martha didn’t have one.

Police said bills for work on the property matched checks written from St. Martha. The house has six bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, 10 fireplaces and three barns.

Wehrle, who founded St. Martha Parish in 1988, was placed on administrative leave by the Diocese of Lansing on May 9, 2017.

Authorities have seized $1.1 million from Wehrle, although auditors say more than $5 million is missing. Nolan has said a bishop allowed Wehrle to use church funds for a home.

The non-profit group Opus Bono Sacerdotii has begun a fundraising for Wehrle, to help with the priest’s legal and living expenses.

“For Father Wehrle, this is quite literally an apocalyptic moment. He is unable to pay his legal team for a competent defense, and is now faced with the horrifying reality that, without the best defense possible, he will live the remainder of his years in state prison. Father Wehrle gets one chance at this; if he does not raise the cost of the legal fees now, he will lose his opportunity for justice, and for his freedom,” said a letter from the organization.

Wehrle is due in circuit court for a pretrial conference on August 2.

Crux staff contributed to this report.

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