A Catholic priest in Mississippi bilked his parishioners out of thousands of dollars by claiming that he had a rare form of cancer, only to spend money donated to him on a membership for an HIV positive dating website according to a Thursday report.
“An affidavit filed in U.S. District Court, Jackson, Mississippi by Homeland Security Special Agent William G. Childers alleges that Father Lenin Vargas Gutierrez used money given to him by parishioners for what he said were cancer treatments in Canada and charitable causes in his native Mexico for his own personal expenses,” the report said. “One of these expenses was membership in a dating website for people with HIV.”
Varags was a priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Starkville before he was abruptly removed from his post after the charges were filed by by law enforcement this week. He allegedly told his clergy that he had a rare form of cancer.
“A GoFundMe account soliciting funds for this treatment was set up and raised $9,210. According to Special Agent Childers, Vargas withdrew most of the donations between March 24 and April 12, 2015. By the end of April, the priest had been given over $20,000 from different sources, including Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Macon, Michigan,” the report said.
According to a local news report, the priest would “groom” his victims by taking them out to meals, for which he would pay (and subsequently put on the church’s tab) before asking them for donations.
“After ingratiating himself, agents say he would then give the parishioner the opportunity to donate to his cause,” that report said. “One informant claimed they gave a $5,000 check to St. Joseph Parish and Vargas called them to ask if the money could be used for the orphanage, to which the informant agreed.”
In a statement, the Diocese of Jackson said:
Earlier this week the government began an investigation of the financial administration of Saint Joseph in Starkville. Saint Joseph Parish and the Diocese of Jackson are cooperating with the investigation. Pending the resolution of the investigation, Father Lenin Vargas will not engage in any public ministry, and has been removed from all pastoral and financial administration.
The continued spiritual and financial well being of St. Joseph Parish and Corpus Christi Mission is of the utmost importance, and we will continue to aid you both in sound fiscal management of all of your resources. Let us pray with trust that the Lord Jesus will shepherd us through this difficult time of upheaval and uncertainty.
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