Priest Diverted Thrift-Shop Funds

Written by richard lutz.

Over a three-year period during his service as Roosevelt Island’s Catholic priest, the Rev. Peter Miqueli paid himself significant amounts of money from the proceeds of the St. Frances Cabrini Thrift Shop, The WIRE has learned. Funds from auxiliary operations like a Thrift Shop are supposed to become part of the operating funds of the parish, according to a church official, not for a priest’s personal use.

Miqueli is under fire for his conduct of financial affairs in the Bronx parish where he now serves, as reported by The WIRE in September. 

Materials that survived what appears to have been a rushed session of document shredding when Miqueli learned he was being reassigned appear to show that Thrift Shop proceeds were consistently deposited into a “Stipends” account used only by Miqueli. Such accounts may be established by priests as a repository for fees or offerings (“stipends”) they receive for conducting sacramental ceremonies like weddings, funerals, and baptisms.

Around the end or beginning of each month from October 2009 through November 2012, Miqueli wrote checks to himself ranging from a low of $500 to a high of $6,589. Most were for an even $1,000, $1,200, or $1,500. Check stub notations in the “for” field, when made, typically read, in Miqueli’s hasty scrawl, “Stipends,” with the month indicated. In a few cases, the “for” field is blank, illegible, or unusual. “All Souls 2011” appears for a check dated “12/1/2011,” for example.

In the materials acquired by The WIRE, there are three checks (out of 45) on which no amounts appear on the stub, but where clearly noted, the amounts total $54,605. Two of the checks in the register, with numbers from 1001 to 1045, are voided, and two are blank. Indications are that the only checks written on the account were to Miqueli, endorsed by Miqueli.

During the period in question, parish records show only 11 sacramental events for which stipends might have been paid – eight baptisms and three deaths.

Miqueli was a priest here from 2002 to 2012. The records obtained by The WIRE do not include the period from 2002 to early 2009, and it is not clear how Thrift Shop proceeds were handled before establishment of this stipends account.

The St. Frances Cabrini Thrift Shop was established by Sr. Regina Palamara, whom Miqueli effectively fired a few months after his arrival here. (She now lives in California.) At the time, there were rumors that he had accused her of misusing church funds, though it now appears that one of his purposes in removing her was to take control of Thrift Shop income. The bank account in question was established within a month of her departure; the first check payable to himself, number 1001, is $750, dated “10/1/2009.” On the same date, he wrote a second check, number 1002, also for $750.

Thereafter, the checks soon rose to $1,000 a month, then to $1,200, then $1,500, before occasionally dropping back to something below $1,500. (One, for $500, is a second check for “7/28/2011,” noted as “Father’s Day Novena.”) One check, for $2,400, is dated “4/10/2010,” indicating it was written in mid-April, but is noted as being for “April & May Stipends.” It was written 5 days after a $1,200 check for “March Stipends.”

Only two checks after the end of 2009 are for amounts other than an even hundred dollars – the $6,589 check noted for “3/22/2011” and the “All Souls 2011” check for $1,516. That check, and another for $1,500, were both noted for “12/1/2011,” and each of those were written twice – first written as numbers 1028 and 1029, then voided, then written again as 1030 and 1031.

The account goes unused, and apparently closed, after the final check, number 1043, noted for “11/30/2012.” Miqueli is still a parish priest in the Bronx where he moved in August, 2012.

Tags: Dick Lutz St. Frances Cabrini

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