The former pastor of St. Elizabeths Roman Catholic Church in Ozone Park pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges that he stole more than $95,000 in funds from the parish to pay for rental cars, trips and other personal expenses.
Rev. John Thompson, 50, of 336 Beach 38th St. in Rockaway, entered a guilty plea in State Supreme Court in Queens to a seven-count indictment charging him with grand larceny in the second degree.
The indictment, which was handed up last week, accused Thompson of stealing church funds over a four-year period and using the money to support his gay lover and an extravagant lifestyle.
The plea bargain came a little more than a week after the principal of St. Elizabeths school, who had filed a lawsuit against the Brooklyn Diocese contending Thompson had stolen funds and sexually harassed her, was placed on unpaid leave.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Thompson used the stolen funds to pay for credit card bills, a luxury automobile lease, a vacation rental in Mexico, trips to Florida, among other items.
He credited the school principal, Barbara Samide, with presenting the initial information that led to Thompsons conviction.
Officials at the Diocese of Brooklyn were unavailable for comment.
The defendant, a Roman Catholic priest, has admitted that he embezzled over $95,000 from St. Elizabeths Church while serving as its pastor, Brown said in a statement. His conduct represents a betrayal of the trust of his parishioners who looked to him for spiritual guidance and moral leadership.
Thompson pleaded guilty before State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Grasso and will be sentenced Oct. 29.
Under the plea bargain arrangement, he is expected to receive five years probation and will be required to pay back to the church the full $95,940, which he stole between Aug. 4, 1998 and April 1, 2002, the district attorney said.
In June, Samide filed the original lawsuit accusing Thompson of stealing as much as $300,000 in parish funds and of sexual harassment. Samide was put on unpaid leave after she added physical assault charges to the lawsuit, she claims.
Samide alleged Thompson spent the stolen money to support himself and his lover and that Thompsons behavior caused her to suffer from a post-traumatic stress disorder.
Brown said a three-month grand jury investigation included interviews with more than 50 witnesses and searches through thousands of documents and records ended in last weeks indictment of Thompson.
He also said the investigation was continuing into Samides allegations of Thompsons sexual misconduct.
I think (the indictment) certainly publicly vindicates Barbara Samide, said her lawyer, Michael Dowd. I think she personally feels vindicated because she said from the beginning that her concern was that this man was stealing from the children and the parishioners.
Dowd said he was glad the district attorney recognized Samide for coming forward and bringing the allegations against Thompson. But he said it was unfortunate Samide had to lose her job because of her lawsuit.
Dowd was referring to Rev. Steven Ferraris decision to place Samide on unpaid leave, effectively limiting her access to the school site. Ferrari replaced Thompson as pastor at St. Elizabeths.
Dowd said Samide will be pursuing the rest of her lawsuit and will be in court Oct. 16.
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.
©2002 Community News Group
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