A California priest was suspended from his duties Monday when several bags of cash discovered after a car accident led to officials uncovering what they say is a prolonged history of theft in which the preacher fleeced his flock for more than $95,000.
The alleged embezzlement scheme was uncovered after a June 19 car accident in which Father Oscar Alejandro Diaz Canchola, 56, sustained a broken hip. Before being rushed to the hospital for surgery, Canchola was asked by paramedics if there was anything in his car that needed to be transported with him.
Canchola reportedly said that there were several bags in the car filled with cash, which he described as his “salary,” Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa said in a news release.
Once in the emergency room, hospital staff contacted police because one employee reported feeling “uncomfortable with the volume of cash” in Canchola’s possession.
Vasa said the police then called him and instructed staff to take custody of the money in question and “to account for it, for possible criminal prosecution.”
Police turned over the money, which amounted to $18,305.86, to the church.
The bags that the money was found in were security bags associate with the Parish Collections at Resurrection Parish. Some were dated and some indicated they were either from a “first” or “second” collection.
Suspicious that more money might have been in Canchola’s possession, Vasa visited his parish on June 24 and reportedly found 10 to 12 more bags and an envelope in his desk drawer with over $10,000 cash. Vasa said he was contacted by parish staff prior to his arrival and was told that Canchola had called to ask the money be deposited.
Vasa also entered the rectory where Canchola lived and reportedly found even more security bags.
“The bags, some of which were dated, show systematic theft at Resurrection Parish from September 2018 through June 2019. The total value of the cash found in the car, the office and the house is in excess of $95,000,” Vasa said.
He said he eventually confronted Canchola who allegedly confessed to the theft.
“The full extent of the theft is not known and may never be fully known but the Diocese is committed to determining as fully as possible the extent of the theft from each of these parishes,” Vasa said in a separate news release Monday.
Vasa said he wanted to pursue criminal prosecution of the case but was advised by the police that establishing proof of theft would be difficult based on church “protocols surrounding collection.” Private investigation into the matter would be too costly, he added.
Canchola has been suspended from his “priestly ministry,” Vasa said before adding that his “future is uncertain.”