Priest Sentenced for Embezzling $75,000 From Church for Vacations, Fancy Cars

A priest who pleaded guilty to looting more than $75,000 from his upscale parish to pay for vacations and fancy cars was sentenced Friday to five years in state prison.

The sentence followed prosecutors' recommendation for the Rev. Joseph W. Hughes, 62, who last month admitted embezzling from the Church of the Holy Cross in the Rumson over seven years. Authorities had originally charged him with taking $2 million.

Hughes, who led the parish for 16 years, has agreed to return the money and pay $120,229 in income taxes.

He was accused of spending parishioners' donations on Caribbean vacations, BMWs and jewelry. He also bought a $200,000 home for a church carpenter.

Some parishioners had defended the clergyman, saying he was merely living a typical Rumson lifestyle. The wealthy community is near the Atlantic Ocean, within commuting distance of New York City.

The pilfering was discovered by the Trenton diocese during an audit, and Hughes was banned from conducting religious ceremonies or wearing his collar in public.

Superior Court Judge Bette E. Uhrmacher recommended a minimum security prison for Hughes because of medical issues including diabetes, obesity and heart-related ailments.