Police say humble Conn. pastor was secret high roller

Allegedly stole $1m from parish

RESENTMENT ALLEGEDLY THE RATIONALE Police said Rev. Kevin Gray told them he grew to hate being a priest and believed he had the worst church assignments. RESENTMENT ALLEGEDLY THE RATIONALE
Police said Rev. Kevin Gray told them he grew to hate being a priest and believed he had the worst church assignments.
By John Christoffersen
Associated Press / July 7, 2010

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NEW HAVEN — The Rev. Kevin J. Gray was a popular priest who appeared to live humbly, forgoing a car so that a Catholic charity could use his space at the rectory. Parishioners thought he had cancer and admired how he helped immigrants in his largely poor parish in Connecticut.

But after a routine audit of the church’s finances turned up discrepancies, authorities began a criminal investigation that they say unraveled a secret double life of male escorts, strip bars, and lavish spending on the finest restaurants, luxury hotels, and expensive clothing, financed with money stolen from the parish.

“About a million,’’ Gray told authorities without hesitation when asked how much he took from the church account, according to his arrest affidavit.

Gray, former pastor at Sacred Heart/Sagrado Corazon Parish in Waterbury, was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny, accused of stealing $1.3 million from the church over seven years, police said. He was arraigned yesterday in Waterbury Superior Court and was held on $750,000 bond, court officials said.

“Up until this investigation he had an excellent reputation,’’ said police Captain Christopher Corbett. “. . . He’s certainly an example of someone who was leading a double life.’’

Gray told church officials and others that he had cancer, but police found no evidence of that, Corbett said. Saying he was undergoing treatments in New York may have been an excuse to explain his absence from the parish, he said.

Gray, 64, used the money to stay at such hotels as the Waldorf-Astoria, New York Palace Hotel, and Copley Square in Boston and bought expensive clothing including Armani, Saks 5th Avenue and Brooks Brothers, police said. He dined at Tavern on the Green and Arturo’s restaurants in New York, Union League Cafe in New Haven, and Abe & Louie’s Restaurant in Boston.

One man Gray met in New York’s Central Park told police that Gray paid for him to attend Harvard University, bought a piano and dogs, paid for his piano lessons, and covered his veterinarian bills. When the man asked why he always paid him with checks from Sacred Heart, Gray told him he had won big cases as an attorney and placed his life savings into the church account, according to the arrest affidavit.

As police interviewed the man, Gray arrived at his apartment. Gray admitted he was not an attorney and did not have colon cancer, police said.

Telephone messages left at Sacred Heart and the public defender’s office were not immediately returned.

Police said Gray told them he grew to hate being a priest and was upset with the archdiocese, believing he received the worst church assignments. According to police, he said he made checks payable to himself in excess of his salary and admitted to having a secret phone deal in which an antenna was placed in the church steeple to generate cash.

“We are deeply saddened by the events which have recently had such a profound affect on [the] parish,’’ the Archdiocese of Hartford said in a statement.

Archdiocese officials said they are working with the parish to improve its financial controls and deal with its debts.

“At the spiritual level, we continue to pray for healing and consolation for the parish family,’’ they said in the statement.

The archdiocese asked police to investigate after a financial review uncovered indications that Gray may have taken more than $1 million for personal use. The missing funds involved a combination of parish savings and money that should have been used to pay debts such as insurance premiums.

Church officials announced those findings last month.

Gray was Sacred Heart’s pastor from 2003 until April 15, when he was granted a medical leave. He was later suspended.

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