FATHER JOSEPH LECLAIR
Credits: Darren Brown/Ottawa Sun/QMI Agency
OTTAWA — Father Joe Leclair was sentenced Wednesday to a year behind bars after a judge concluded house arrest wouldn’t be enough punishment for the charismatic priest turned “pathological gambler” who bilked his church.
Leclair, 57, pleaded guilty in January to fraud and theft of about $130,000 from Blessed Sacrament Parish -- although there was a total of $400,000 in unexplained deposits into his personal accounts from 2006 to 2010.
Journalists were booted from the courtroom so Leclair could have a private meeting with his supporters.
Earlier, Judge Jack Nadelle said he had more than 200 letters from Leclair supporters.
The popular priest clearly went beyond his duties, but he can’t benefit from the reputation that allowed him to fleece his church in the first place, Nadelle said.
“The fact that the accused was in a position of trust is the most aggravating factor,” Nadelle said. “Every time he took some money, he was committing a criminal offence.
“The accused did not stop his criminal activity. Even when caught or knowing he would be caught, he lied to his parishioners.”
In April 2011, with news of the allegations set to break, LeClair told parishioners from the pulpit that he had a gambling problem but the money he wagered was his own.
The charismatic priest stole from the collection plate, pocketed fees from marriage courses and padded expenses to repay cash advances at the Casino du Lac Leamy, often several in a day.
The city's archibishop said in January that Leclair had courageously admitted to his addictions and the church would support the talented priest in his recovery and desire to return to his ministry of 25 years.
Leclair, who boosted membership of the parish to 10,000, will also serve a year of probation.