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Ohio Priest Ordered to Pay Back Almost $4 Million

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CLEVELAND (RNS) A federal judge sentenced the Rev. Samuel Ciccolini to one day in prison and ordered him to pay almost $4 million in fines and restitution for evading banking regulations and filing false tax returns.
Prosecutors say Ciccolini, known locally as Father Sam, has more than enough money to repay the funds.

Ciccolini founded the Interval Brotherhood Home, a thriving drug and alcohol treatment center in Akron. But he found himself in trouble with the law when federal investigators caught on to his suspicious banking practices.

U.S. District Judge James Gwin ordered Ciccolini to pay restitution of $3.5 million to the foundation that supports the Interval Brotherhood Home. Although Ciccolini was never charged with theft, Gwin said he believes most of the priest’s personal wealth came from money he embezzled from the foundation.

Gwin also fined Ciccolini $350,000.

Investigators found that Ciccolini had more than $4.3 million in his own accounts at the end 2006. Gwin also referenced a $5 million trust fund belonging to Ciccolini that prosecutors said was created in 2008 after Ciccolini realized he was under investigation.

“He has the assets to pay the restitution and the fine,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Bulford said after the hearing.

Gwin accused Ciccolini of lying about the source of more than $1 million in cash the priest deposited in various banks in 2003. Ciccolini admitted depositing the money in 139 separate transactions of less than $10,000 each to avoid bank reporting requirements. He told Gwin the money, kept in his rectory apartment, came from income, donations, gifts, investments and other legitimate sources.

The judge, however, said the cash, at least in part, came from money Ciccolini embezzled from the foundation set up on behalf the Interval Brotherhood Home.

Ciccolini admitted taking nearly $1.3 million from the foundation between 2000 and 2007 and putting it into his own personal accounts. He stated in court documents that he took control of the foundation money because it was his goodwill that attracted the cash in the first place.

Ciccolini returned the $1.3 million after an investigation began and was never charged with theft. But he never reported the embezzled money as income, so he was charged with filing false tax returns.

Supporters, including Tim Killian, president of the IBH Foundation board of trustees, said they still don’t believe the priest took money from the foundation for his own personal use.

“I will say we need to give Father Sam a second chance, whatever that may be,” Killian said.