Three priests set up failed business called Shag
TWO Irish priests accused of misappropriating millions from a Florida church had formed a mortgage company with another priest called Shag Inc.
Fr John Skehan (80), originally from Johnstown, Kilkenny, and Fr Francis Guinan (64), originally from Birr, Co Offaly, are accused in relation to $8.6m missing from church coffers.
The two men are accused of using offertory dollars to keep girlfriends, take gambling excursions and foreign holidays, and buy property.
It has emerged the two pensioners invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Shag Inc, a failed mortgage loan scheme. Records show it was formed in 1984 and dissolved a decade later.
The third priest has been named as Michael Hickey, a priest assigned to several parishes in Florida, who had a long history of drink driving.
The 71-year-old was charged with driving under the influence five times between 1979 and 1999 and he was banned from driving in 1999.
Shag appears to be an acronym made up of the first letter of the pensioners' last names: Skehan, Hickey and Guinan.
Their investment history was mixed, with one of their clients later being jailed for defrauding clients of more than €2m. William Cartwright borrowed money totalling $177,000 from the priests to make loans based on mortgages. The money ran out and he filed for bankruptcy, with investors receiving about 50 cents in the dollar. However, he was jailed for seven years for defrauding customers in a separate property scheme.
The men had listed the address of the company at St Patrick's Church near Palm Beach Gardens, where Guinan served for 16 years.
A small group of parishioners discovered Shag's connection to the Cartwright fiasco when, suspicious of Guinan's handling of their church's finances, they conducted an investigation in the early 1990s. They confronted Guinan, who denied them access to parish financial records.
After a year, they took their case to diocesan officials, who conducted an audit but determined that Guinan had done nothing irregular.
When he was transferred from St Patrick's to another parish in 2003, the diocese conducted another routine audit of the church finances. His successor described the finances as "a mess" and installed new financial accountability measures at the parish.
Police investigating the missing millions are limited to going back just five years. However the diocese is not bound by such limitations.
Palm Beach diocese spokeswoman Alexis Walkenstein said they are seeking to have all the funds reimbursed. When asked about Shag, she said it was "pretty unusual for priests to form for-profit corporations".
"However because diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty, there is no rule to prevent diocesan priests from accumulating wealth as long as it is within legal and moral confines," she said.
"I am not going to comment on the Shag corporation because that entity was not part of the diocese of Palm Beach."
Skehan and Guinan were arrested last September on suspicion of stealing millions in offerings and gifts made to their parish as far back as 40 years ago. They are likely to be charged with stealing less than $1m when the case goes to trial next February but could face jail sentences of up to 30 years if they are found guilty.
However, they are likely to enter a plea bargain, which would see them serving around four years.
Skehan is thought by prosecutors to have stolen $1.5m from the Catholic church in Delray Beach between 1996 and 2003 alone.
But the state attorney's office has said that charges cannot be brought in relation to $1.1m of these missing donations because of the five year statute of limitations.
Guinan will be accused of stealing about $488,000 from the parish between September 2003 and April 2005 after he took over from Fr Skehan.
Both men are free on bail of $40,000.
It is believed that Hickey may now be in Ireland.
on the upside at least we arent hearing about them raping young boys....yet