Catholic priest Ignacio Villafan, 52, was sentenced Wednesday to five years probation for stealing over $300,000 from the Tulare church where he served as the pastor in charge, the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office said.
The sentence by Judge Gary Paden is too lenient because Villafan is not going to jail, District Attorney Tim Ward said.
“To think that a person could steal such a large sum and not face incarceration undermines the justice that we in the District Attorney’s Office seek every day,” Ward said.
Bishop Armando Xavier Ochoa of the Diocese of Fresno told the judge that Villafan’s actions betrayed parishioners. But the church is short of priests, so Ochoa said he wants to take a “restorative justice” approach, meaning that Villafan will one day return to ministry but have no access to funds.
Villafan was in charge of St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Tulare from June 1, 2005 to Jan. 21, 2012. After being caught, he was put on paid administrative leave by the diocese and remains on leave.
He wrote checks for his personal daily use worth $195,000, the District Attorney’s Office said. He also gifted church funds to family members. The diocese did an audit and found that more than $300,000 was missing.
Restitution “will take him many, many years to accomplish,” Ochoa said. The bishop also said Villafan’s family members must take some responsibility because they benefited from the crime.
Full story at The Fresno Bee.