- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas priest charged Tuesday with stealing nearly $151,000 from two parishes and the Catholic Diocese of Wichita used the money to fund his gambling, federal prosecutors alleged.

Documents filed in U.S. District Court in Wichita charge Father Thomas H. Leland with one count of bank fraud.

Leland was assigned in 2010 to St. Francis Parish in St. Paul and St. Ambrose Parish in Erie, both located in southeast Kansas. He is no longer active with the diocese, spokeswoman Amy Pavlacka said.

Court records do not list a defense attorney who could comment on his behalf, and church officials had no contact information for him.

“The charges filed today reflect a difficult time for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita,” Pavlacka said in an email. “Our priorities throughout have been to assist and secure the financial well-being of St. Francis and St. Ambrose Catholic parishes, which we have done, and to help Fr. Leland navigate this difficult time with justice and mercy.”

Both parishes have “turned the page,” and are thriving under new leadership, she said.

Prosecutors allege that between 2012 and April 2014, Leland executed a scheme to defraud the two parishes and the diocese.

“During that time period Father Leland began gambling extensively and funded that endeavor with funds embezzled from the victims,” the government said in its filing.

Leland, the only priest assigned to the parishes, had sole signature authority on each of the parishes’ bank accounts, prosecutors said.

The government alleged Leland took overpayments totaling $2,063 for conducting Mass; took unauthorized salary advancements and salary overpayments totaling $138,200; and took unauthorized reimbursements for personal expenses totaling $10,656.

The court issued a summons for a Sept. 23 initial appearance in federal court in Wichita.

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