Thursday, February 24, 2011

Priest sentenced
Madison priest sentenced on theft, fraud charges
Feb. 23, 2011 |(10) Comments

A Madison priest has been sentenced to six months in the county jail on theft and fraud charges linked to an alleged investment scheme believed to have netted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the priest's friends, family and former congregation.

Father Thomas Marr, who served two decades at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Watertown, apologized in court Tuesday, saying he hurt people "terribly, though totally unintentionally."

Marr, 66, had admitted stealing from parish accounts and borrowing money from dozens of individuals without telling them he was investing it with a parishioner who claimed to have worked as a consultant in Nigeria.

Marr's attorney said Wednesday that the cleric was duped by parishioner Arthur W. Eith, a felon who remains under investigation by state and local authorities but has yet to be charged.

"Eith absolutely is a con artist," said attorney Bill Ginsberg, who characterized Marr as a "saint" who acted on altruistic motives.

"He fleeced Father Marr and took him for everything he owned."

Marr was sentenced Tuesday in Jefferson County Circuit Court on two counts of theft - from St. Bernard's and a couple who had loaned him $11,000, believing it was going to help parishioners in need.

He was sentenced to six months in jail and seven years on probation, with eligibility for house arrest after three months, according to court records.

The priest was ordered to pay more than $134,000 in restitution to 16 individuals or couples, plus at least $36,600 to St. Bernard's.

Brent King, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Madison, said Marr remains a priest and has been helping out with sacraments at a Madison parish. "But this may affect his suitability to lead a parish," he said.

According to the criminal complaint, Eith maintained that Marr was one of several investors he had approached to finance a contract in Nigeria that would pay $36 million on a $3 million investment - and promising a $1 million donation to St. Bernard's in the process.

Marr invested $160,000 of his own money, and $28,000 from another priest whom he takes care of. When that was exhausted, he began borrowing from the parish - at one point leaving an IOU in the files - and friends, family and parishioners, telling them it was for financially strapped church members or a home for himself and the other priest, who suffers from Alzheimer's.

Efforts to reach Eith on Wednesday were unsuccessful. In a 2009 interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, he said he'd worked as a consultant in Nigeria and needed money to pay taxes and legal fees in order to get his Nigerian paycheck. He said he would be vindicated once all of the facts were known.

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