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Priest with gambling habit faces prison in Las Vegas

A lawyer planned to ask a federal judge on Friday to reject a call for almost three years of prison time and instead give probation to a Roman Catholic priest who pleaded guilty to siphoning $650,000 over eight years from his northwest Las Vegas parish gift shop, votive candle collection and prayer funds to support his gambling habit.

In documents filed in advance of sentencing, Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe's attorney asks U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan to let McAuliffe, 59, continue getting counseling for a gambling addiction, keep practicing as a priest and pay restitution to his parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Summerlin.

As an ordained priest, McAuliffe will "continue to atone for his wrongdoing as he carries on with his life-long obligations and service" to the church, attorney Margaret Stanish said in Jan. 6 documents. She quoted excerpts from some of about 100 letters of support from supporters and parishioners at one of the largest church congregations in Nevada.

"I pray you to be as lenient as you can," wrote the Rev. John Kovalcin, a Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas priest who teaches theology at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. "What he did was wrong. He is paying for his actions. He has lost all he personally worked for.

"He must repair the damage he has caused and heal the people he has hurt. He cannot do that from a prison confinement," Kovalcin said.

McAuliffe could face up to 60 years in federal prison and a $750,000 fine. Deputy U.S. Attorney Christina Brown said in a sentencing memorandum there was no reason Mahan shouldn't follow a federal probation department recommendation that McAuliffe serve 33 months.

"Although the defendant had comforted and counseled others, he also enjoyed benefits, privileges and expertise not shared by others," she said, adding that McAuliffe was familiar with gambling addiction programs, "having been called upon through his position to make counseling arrangements for other priests."

McAuliffe had complete control from to 2002 to 2010 of church activities and finances, the prosecutor said, and was able to hide his embezzlement because he was a signatory to financial statements to the Las Vegas Diocese and Catholic Archdiocese in San Francisco.

When confronted by the FBI last May, "the defendant for two hours offered various explanations as to how his earnings supported his gambling," Brown said. "When these explanations failed, agents asked the defendant if he stole money from the church, which the defendant denied."

McAuliffe pleaded guilty in October, before an indictment or criminal complaint was filed, to three counts of federal mail fraud for falsifying documents sent in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to the archdiocese.

McAuliffe was removed as pastor of the northwest Las Vegas congregation of more than 8,000 families and relieved of diocese duties. A month before, the Rev. James Jankowski, interim pastor of the church, pleaded in the church newsletter for parishioners to be patient.

Bishop Joseph Pepe, head of the regional church administration since 2001, issued a statement saying the diocese and parish were cooperating with federal authorities, and that church administrators were handling the matter internally.

Stanish told the judge that McAuliffe began paying restitution to the church in May, and that to date, he had paid $13,420.

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