- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

DETROIT (AP) - A Catholic priest who led a suburban Detroit parish for nearly 30 years pleaded guilty to fraud Tuesday in a scheme to conceal the theft of more than $500,000, including money for a Florida condominium.

“Why am I pleading guilty? Because I am,” the Rev. Edward Belczak told a judge.

Belczak’s mail fraud was the act of sending incomplete financial reports to the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2010 to conceal embezzlement from St. Thomas More Church in Troy. Investigators said he stole about $573,000. Belczak opened a separate bank account with his name and the name of the church.

“I decided to do this for me,” he said.

He used $109,000 to help buy a $500,000 condo near Palm Beach, Florida, from his parish manager, Janice Verschuren, who also is charged in the case.

“Father Belczak abused the sacred trust his parishioners placed in him so that he could enrich himself,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said.

Belczak, 70, could get three years in federal prison when he returns to court Dec. 1. He must give up the condo and repay what he stole.

While admitting guilt, Belczak at times suggested that donors wanted him to have certain financial gifts.

“Between now and the time of sentencing, you better reflect on what you did because I’m hearing a lot of justification,” U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow said.

Belczak was removed from St. Thomas More in 2013 after an audit raised questions about parish finances.

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