- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 16, 2017

MASON, Mich. (AP) - A priest from central Michigan has been charged with embezzlement from his church.

The Rev. Jonathan Wayne Wehrle, 66, was arrested at his Williamston home on Saturday, the 39th anniversary of his ordination. Wehrle was charged Monday with embezzlement of $100,000 or more in Mason District Court, the Lansing State Journal (https://on.lsj.com/2qsag6V ) reported.

Wehrle’s attorney denied the allegations and said the priest has independent family money.

“I’ve known Father for almost 30 years, he’s not a thief and he is not an embezzler,” attorney Lawrence Nolan said. “This is a guy who dedicated his life to the Catholic Church.”

The Catholic Diocese of Lansing said last week that Wehrle was placed on administrative leave on May 9, during an investigation by independent auditors into possible embezzlement at the St. Martha Parish in Okemos. A statement from the diocese said the possible embezzlement was referred to police.

Detective First Lt. Thomas DeClercq said the investigation is ongoing and he anticipates additional charges.

Magistrate Judge Mark Blumer said the charge stems from alleged embezzling between January 2012 and April of this year.

Nolan said the priest has independent family money, including funds from a recent sale of his mother’s home in Jackson County.

According to a review by the Lansing State Journal, property records show a home owned by Jonathan W. Wehrle and Dorothy I. Wehrle in Jackson County sold for at least $700,000 in March.

Records also show Jonathan W. Wehrle or the Jonathan W. Wehrle Trust has ownership in three Williamston properties, including a nearly $1.5 million home that the priest listed as his address in court on Monday.

Wehrle is scheduled for a June 1 hearing to determine whether he should go to trial. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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