'You stole from the poor and you stole from the church,' judge tells ex-officer

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'You stole from the poor and you stole from the church,' judge tells ex-officer

'You stole from the poor and you stole from the church,' judge tells ex-officer

Paul Meunier-Collins, the former financial administrator of St. Augustine Church in Moncton, has been sentenced to two years in prison for using his position to defraud the parish of more than $160,000 over 10 years.

Meunier-Collins pleaded guilty last month to fraud.

"You stole from the poor and you stole from the church," provincial court Judge Troy Sweet said Friday before delivering the sentence.

Meunier-Collins created fictitious expenses, such as office supply purchases, and even invented payroll advances to pocket the church's money. 

After noticing financial irregularities in 2014, the parish priest confronted Meunier-Collins, who immediately admitted his crime.

The church hired an accounting firm, and an audit revealed $162,285 was missing.

The 60-year-old business manager was suspended from his position at the Catholic church, and the RCMP charged him with theft and fraud.

The theft charge was later dropped.

Before pronouncing his sentence Friday, Sweet called Meunier-Collins to the front of the courtroom and asked if he had anything to say.

"I very much regret my actions," Meunier-Collins said as he took to the microphone. 

"I'm very sorry for the hurt, pain and confusion I caused. I have been carrying this around for a very long time and it's pretty brutal."

The apology wasn't enough to sway Sweet, who went with the Crown's recommendation of a sentence of two years in prison.

The judge called Meunier-Collin's actions "despicable."

He said Meunier-Collins came up with an elaborate scheme to deceive parishioners, and he took advantage of the high regard people had for him.

The defence asked for a sentence of 12 to 24 months, or house arrest instead of jail, arguing Meunier-Collins admitted his guilt right away, expressed remorse, had no prior criminal record and was suffering from depression at the time of the crime.

'Morale was very low'

Paulette Wallace, a parishioner of 39 years and a volunteer at St. Augustine, read a victim impact statement in court.

She said Meunier-Collins's actions brought a deep sense of betrayal, shock and anger to parishioners.

"These funds were donated by ordinary hardworking, and retired individuals," said Wallace, explaining many families with limited income and seniors attended the church.

Wallace said St. Augustine lost many lifetime members to other parishes after the scandal, and it continues to struggle financially.

She said many social activities had to be cancelled, renovations badly needed for the building never saw the light of day, and the church still hasn't been able to hire a replacement for the position Meunier-Collins once held.

She said many parishioners stopped giving because they felt the money wasn't going to the church.

"The morale was very low," Wallace said.

Meunier-Collins, sitting in the last row of court wearing a grey suit and tie, held his head down during much of the statement. 

During the rest of the hearing, his face looked tense, and he closed his eyes at times and crossed his hands as though praying. At other times he tightly gripped the hand of his partner sitting beside him.

Meunier-Collins's sentence includes paying some restitution.