$63G found in ceiling at home of priest charged with embezzling millions, police say

If a Michigan priest had taken a vow of poverty, his million-dollar home -- and the $63,000 in cash that authorities said they found above the basement ceiling tiles -- might have been signs that he had broken it.

Authorities seized the cash after the Roman Catholic priest was accused of embezzling millions from a local parish to fund the construction of his luxurious mansion, police said.

The search was conducted at the Rev. Jonathan Wehrle's million-dollar home in Williamston — about 19 miles east of Lansing, the Lansing State Journal reported.

Michigan State Police said they found $63,392 stashed in the basement ceiling. The bulk of cash was in $2,000 bundles of $20 bills and wrapped in bands that said, “For Deposit Only-St. Martha Parish and School.”

Additional evidence was taken from the home, but authorities didn’t specify what it included.

Authorities have seized more than $1.1 million from Wehrle, 67, who was accused of stealing at least $5 million from St. Martha Parish in Okemos to build his extravagant home, WILX-TV reported. Authorities are working to recover the remaining funds.

Defense attorney Lawrence Nolan declined to comment on Tuesday’s discovery. He said he was withdrawing from the case. No reason was immediately provided.

With his assets frozen by authorities, Wehrle has been trying to raise $300,000 for his legal defense, the Lansing State Journal reported, citing a letter by Opus Bono, a charity that raises money for priests.

"For Father Wehrle, this is quite literally an apocalyptic moment," the letter read. "The prosecutor has frozen all of his assets. ... He is unable to pay his legal team for a competent defense.”

"For Father Wehrle, this is quite literally an apocalyptic moment. The prosecutor has frozen all of his assets. ... He is unable to pay his legal team for a competent defense.”

- Letter from Opus Bono, a charity that raises money for priests

Wehrle has been charged with six counts of embezzling $100,000 or more. His trial was scheduled for Aug. 13.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.