Priest charged with steal­ing $500,000

Funds des­tined for Hamil­ton refugee pro­gram

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JOEL OPHARDT jophardt@thes­pec.com 905-526-3408

LON­DON, ONT. — A Lon­don priest has been charged with steal­ing $500,000 meant for refugees in a spon­sor­ship pro­gram over­seen by the Ro­man Catholic Dio­cese of Hamil­ton.

Lon­don Po­lice an­nounced Thurs­day charges have been laid against 51-year-old Amer Saka af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into mis­ap­pro­pri­ated funds was launched in Fe­bru­ary.

Po­lice said the dio­cese co­op­er­ated with of­fi­cers in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The Bishop of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Mar Ad­dai of Toronto had sus­pended Saka from his par­ish.

Bishop Dou­glas Crosby of the Hamil­ton dio­cese is­sued a brief state­ment on the sit­u­a­tion to The Spec­ta­tor.

“I wish to af­firm that the Dio­cese of Hamil­ton re­mains com­mit­ted to the con­tin­u­ing care and sup­port of all refugees un­der the Dio­cese’s refugee spon­sor­ship pro­gram, in­clud­ing those whose spon­sor­ship may have in­volved Fa­ther Saka,” said Bishop Crosby.

The Hamil­ton dio­cese knew there were about 10 or 11 of Saka’s refugees who had ar­rived in South­ern On­tario within the past few months, and one or two of those could be liv­ing in Hamil­ton. Af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­came pub­lic in March, Hamil­ton Msgr. Mur­ray Kroetsch said Saka had been with the pro­gram for about eight or nine years.

The Hamil­ton dio­cese filed up to 20 ap­pli­ca­tions for refugees from Iraq, spon­sored by Saka.

Kroetsch said Chaldean Bishop Emanuel Shaleta, who had dis­cov­ered the mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion, be­lieved Saka may have had a gam­bling prob­lem.

Crosby con­firmed the Dio­cese of Hamil­ton’s spon­sor­ship pro­gram will con­tinue “its long es­tab­lished and im­por­tant work in spon­sor­ing refugees.” The Dio­cese of Hamil­ton has about 30 churches and par­ties in their spon­sor­ship pro­gram, and the gov­ern­ment re­quires any group spon­sor­ing refugees to fi­nan­cially sup­port them for their first 12 months.

Lon­don Po­lice say Saka, a priest at St. Joseph Chaldean Church in Lon­don, ob­tained the money from more than 20 vic­tims. The Chaldean church rep­re­sents Catholics from Iraq and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

Lon­don po­lice said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion spanned On­tario, the United States and coun­tries where refugees were at­tempt­ing to come to Canada. Saka is charged with fraud ex­ceed­ing $5,000 and pos­sess pro­ceeds of prop­erty or thing ex­ceed­ing $5,000.

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