NEW HAVEN, Conn. – A Darien priest who stole about $1.3 million from his parish to support a luxurious lifestyle was sentenced Tuesday to 37 months in prison. The Rev. Michael Jude Fay was also ordered to pay $1 million in restitution.
Fay, who pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge in September, set up secret bank accounts to pay for travel around the world and to buy a condominium, authorities say. He resigned last year as pastor of St. John Roman Catholic Church.
In a courtroom apology, the 56-year-old Fay asked for leniency and said his mistakes have brought shame to his parishioners, his family and friends.
"I am deeply sorry for this whole situation," he said.
Fay, who has cancer and wore a sling on his left arm, said he accepted responsibility for his actions, but also cited the effects of his medication and his trust in others.
"I beg you for your mercy," Fay said. "Do not send me to prison. I am already in prison."
Fay also made an analogy to Leonardo da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper, citing a story that the same man who stood in as a model for Judas cried out that years earlier he was the model for John.
"I stand before you a canvas of multiple layers," Fay declared.
Investigators working for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport last year said Fay used church money for limousines, stays at top hotels around the world, jewelry and clothing from Italy.
The priest shopped at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, drove a Jaguar, attended a sports club, bought jewelry from Cartier, spent $130,000 for limo rides for himself and his mother, and stayed at hotels such as the Ritz Carlton, Hotel De Paris and the Four Seasons Hotel, the church report found.
Authorities say Fay perpetrated the fraud over seven years. Many parishioners left the church because of the scandal, prosecutors said.
"This crime quite frankly transcends dollars," prosecutor Richard Schechter said. "It took place unabated and in a growing fashion. Mr. Fay served himself."
In a statement to the court, the Bridgeport diocese asked for "a just sentence" that included restitution to the parish.
Fay had asked that he be spared prison time because he's dying of prostate cancer and spent 28 years performing good works. He has repaid nearly $280,000.
But U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton said Fay's action were carried out over several years and ultimately devastated the church members. The punishment, she said, is intended to promote respect for the law.
"It is a message that not even the collar can protect you from prison," she said.
Federal prosecutors wanted Fay sentenced to about four years but were pleased with the outcome.
"We think it sends the right message that no matter what profession you're in, theft is theft," U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said. "And the consequences should be the same."
Fay is scheduled to report to prison on April 2, giving him time to participate in a medical trial for a new cancer drug.
A handful of protesters from lay reform group Voice of the Faithful stood outside the court, saying the case showed the need for greater control of church finances by parishioners. Bridgeport Bishop William Lori said the diocese has enhanced its financial controls.
In a statement Tuesday night, the diocese called Tuesday's proceedings "a day of great sorrow for all concerned."