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updated: 8/17/2011 5:18 AM

Roselle priest avoids prison in gambling scandal

Judges sentences man to jail, probation, labor

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  • John Regan

      John Regan

 

A DuPage County judge said he aimed to teach a Roman Catholic priest "a little humility" Tuesday in sentencing him to a mix of jail, probation and menial labor for gambling away hundreds of thousands of dollars belonging to a Roselle parish.

Judge John Kinsella also ordered Father John Regan, 47, to pay $295,000 in restitution to St. Walter Catholic Church, saying his crimes constituted an "indescribable level of betrayal" against those who trusted him most.

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"You basically went out in the dark of night with other people's money and fed an addiction," Kinsella told Regan. "No sentence I can impose on you can undo the harm you did to that parish. If I thought the world would be a better place locking you up for 30 to 40 months in a cell in southern Illinois, I would."

Regan faced up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty in June to felony charges that stemmed from his two years as pastor at St. Walter.

He told the court in tearful testimony Tuesday that a gambling addiction led him to repeatedly raid a "special needs fund" at the parish for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which he spent at riverboat casinos in Elgin and Joliet. He apologized and vowed to make amends.

"Every day was a good day to go to the casino, and that's the insidious nature of the disease I have," Regan said, breaking down in tears. "I can't imagine anybody wanting to do what I've done."

Kinsella ordered Regan to immediately begin serving a 60-day jail sentence. After that, Regan will serve 150 nights in jail in a program that requires him to hold a job -- "as menial as possible," the judge said -- by day. He also was ordered to complete 500 hours of community service, four years of probation, and 40 days on work detail for the county sheriff's office, in addition to restitution.

Kinsella warned that any infractions could result in prison. "I don't want you betting on whether the sun comes up tomorrow," he told Regan, who said he hasn't placed a bet in three years.

Regan was ordained in 1989 and went to work for St. Walter in July 2006. Within two months, Assistant State's Attorney Helen Kapas said, he created a secret "special needs fund" for which he was solely responsible and used to feed his gambling habit.

"That a person could do this to their own church is unthinkable, unimaginable and unbelievable," she said. "There will be different judgment days for John Regan, but today is a day for justice in DuPage County."

State's attorney investigator Ray Bradford testified that records showed Regan withdrew more than $117,000 on nearly 400 occasions from the account at casino ATMs. About $295,000 altogether in parishioner contributions moved into the account under Regan's watch. And the priest also wrote about $115,500 in checks to himself from that account, Bradford said.

Regan admitted gambling away at least $264,000, though prosecutors put the number closer to $410,000. The defense attributed the difference to winnings that went back into the mix and were unaccounted for.

At a five-hour sentencing hearing Tuesday, several St. Walter parishioners took the stand and gave alternate assessments of Regan. Some said they believed he deserved another chance, in part because of his work on programs for children, seniors and missionaries. But others said they felt betrayed and saddened that he took advantage of their generosity.

"They're divided," said Bryan Mraz of Roselle, who has attended St. Walter most of his life, outside of court. "I can live with (the sentence). I liked what Judge Kinsella told him. I hope (Regan) takes what he said to heart."

Prosecutors, who dubbed Regan the "riverboat priest," had sought a 10-year prison term, saying probation would "deprecate the seriousness" of his offense. But defense attorneys Jim Ryan and Jack Donahue contended that Regan never enriched himself or bought cars, condominiums and other big-ticket items common in embezzlement cases.

"We're not dealing with a sociopath. We're dealing with a good man, a charitable man, who was possessed by a demon of gambling addiction," Donahue said. He later called the judge's ruling "fair and wise."

"Obviously John Regan is not jumping for joy being in the county jail," Donahue said. "But he understands what he did was egregious."

Regan was removed from St. Walter in summer 2006 after an internal audit uncovered the thefts. He is barred by the Diocese of Joliet from saying Mass or offering communion publicly, and any future employment would be restricted, said the Rev. William Dewan, vicar of priests.

"We're not sure what the future holds," he said.

In a statement, the Diocese said it remains "committed to proper stewardship of any money donated to its parishes and agencies."

"We have an effective financial reporting system for parishes in place, and audits are conducted on a regular basis," said diocesan spokesman Doug Delaney. "We constantly strive to make sure that any financial irregularities are caught and reported to local authorities."

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