Before a visibly stunned courtroom including many former parishioners, U.S. District Court Judge Susan D. Wigenton sentenced Monsignor Patrick Brown to five months in jail, five months of home detention, and a $30,000 fine – bringing to a close the sorry story of another trusted, well-respected religious leader who used his office for personal gain. Pleading guilty to a charge of tax evasion for falsifying his 2005 Federal income tax return and diverting more than $63 thousand in funds from St. Vincent de Paul Parish between 2004 and 2009, Brown and his many supporters and admirers had been awaiting sentencing since last November.
At the time of his guilty plea, it was reported that much of the money diverted had been used by Brown to purchase gifts, make repairs to a Budd Lake, NJ residence he owns, and take vacations to Colorado, Hawaii, and Ireland.
At yesterday’s sentencing hearing, Prosecutor Lee Vartan provided more detail regarding the beleaguered Monsignor’s improprieties, stating that Brown’s scheme involved the diversion of more than one-half million dollars from the Parish! Additionally, a news release by U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman provided more detail concerning the misappropriation of funds.
Apparently, within three days of assuming the leadership of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in 1992, Brown opened an account with Chemical Bank in which parish money was deposited. He used proceeds of that account for many of his personal expenditures until its closing in 2007 – at which time Brown became aware of the federal investigation into the Parish’s finances. Thereafter, however, he opened another account, this time with Sovereign Bank, that was partially funded via church donations.
Despite the fact that the court had been inundated by more than 200 letters detailing acts of generosity and kindness performed by Monsignor Brown, Judge Wigenton expressed the need to impose a sentence reflecting the “seriousness” of the Monsignor’s crimes. Before imposing sentence, Wigenton reflected that “for a person who has taken an oath before God…to then mislead parishioners…that’s just very disturbing.” She further added “there’s a level of deception here that seems almost pathological.”
In light of the new revelations regarding the Monsignor’s criminal activities, Judge Wigenton’s sentence appears almost too lenient. Yet, the very fact that Brown’s misdeeds have come to the light of day and caused his rapid fall from grace likely provide a more profound level of punishment than any incarceration could, as well as a warning for others who would use positions of prestige and authority to defraud those whom they should be serving.