By Associated Press - Saturday, November 28, 2015

TROY, Mich. (AP) - A Catholic priest facing a prison sentence for embezzling money from his prosperous suburban Detroit church is getting support from dozens of supporters who are urging a judge to show mercy.

Federal prosecutors are seeking a 37-month sentence for the Rev. Ed Belczak, who is returning to federal court Tuesday. He pleaded guilty to fraud in an embezzlement scheme at St. Thomas More Church in Troy. Investigators say he stole about $573,000.

Some of that money was used to buy a Florida condominium from his church manager.

“Fr. Belczak has undoubtedly touched tens of thousands of lives, if not more, for the better,” wrote auto dealer Jeffrey Cauley. “For whatever wrong he may have done, the good he has done in . making us all better human beings outweighs it by a thousand times.”

Kathleen Marshall told U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow that she would welcome Belczak back as pastor at St. Thomas More. He was removed from the parish in 2013 after an audit raised questions about church finances.

Prosecutors are dismissing calls for probation, saying it would be a “gentle wrist-slap,” the Detroit Free Press reported ( ).

“The defendant should not be permitted to seek shelter behind the very congregation and employer he defrauded,” prosecutors wrote.

Belczak’s attorney, Jerome Sabbota, said the priest was under duress.

“The pressures of that church, which became one of the largest and wealthiest in the Detroit metro area, caused him both to drink, as well as to become a compulsive gambler in relation to the stock market,” Sabbota said in a court filing. “That never brought him peace.”

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