Audit: St. Leo's Father Stan spent $1 million on family, personal items

Rev. Stan Strycharz listens to a parishioner of St. Leo Catholic Church after a prayer gathering and celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ordination of Strycharz on Wednesday at Quail West Country Club in Bonita Springs. Strycharz, the priest of St. Leo Catholic Church in Bonita Springs, was suspended by Bishop Frank Dewane in July 2010 pending investigations into allegations that he fathered a child and mishandled financial and personnel issues. About 400 people attended Wednesday's meeting that was held in support of Strycharz and organized by a group called Save the Southwest Florida Diocese. Lexey Swall/Staff

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Rev. Stan Strycharz listens to a parishioner of St. Leo Catholic Church after a prayer gathering and celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ordination of Strycharz on Wednesday at Quail West Country Club in Bonita Springs. Strycharz, the priest of St. Leo Catholic Church in Bonita Springs, was suspended by Bishop Frank Dewane in July 2010 pending investigations into allegations that he fathered a child and mishandled financial and personnel issues. About 400 people attended Wednesday's meeting that was held in support of Strycharz and organized by a group called Save the Southwest Florida Diocese. Lexey Swall/Staff

Bishop Frank Dewane speaks as St. John Neumann High School Principal Dr. Laura Campbell looks on.

Bishop Frank Dewane speaks as St. John Neumann High School Principal Dr. Laura Campbell looks on.

— The year-long internal investigation into the suspected misdeeds of the popular priest at St. Leo Catholic Church in Bonita Springs is coming to a close.

Southwest Florida Bishop Frank J. Dewane placed Rev. Stan Strycharz on administrative leave in late July 2010, with full pay, pending an internal investigation into several allegations about Strycharz, both personal and financial.

A conclusion to the financial allegations was announced in a letter inserted in the church bulletin and handed out to parishioners at the end of mass Saturday night and throughout the day Sunday.

“At least $1 million in unsupported or questionable expenses remain, for which Fr. Strycharz has offered neither justification nor satisfactory explanations to the independent auditors,” Dewane wrote in the letter to parishioners.

The forensic audit was conducted by Larson Allen of Naples. The firm completed the audit in May, said Diocese spokesman Billy Atwell. Church officials then reviewed their findings, Atwell said, before releasing the primary conclusions.

Otis Wragg, founder of the Miami-based Wragg & Casas public relations firm, which has an office in Bonita Springs, remains a spokesman for Strycharz’s supporters, who formed a group called Save the Diocese of Southwest Florida.

Wragg became aware of the letter but had yet to receive it until after 5 p.m. Sunday and said his firm would be available to respond likely on Monday.

“It’s impossible to comment tonight. We would like time to respond,” Wragg said. “You can’t do it on a knee-jerk that’s all,” he said.

The expenses that were insufficiently accounted for include approximately $665,000 of parish funds used to pay Strycharz’s personal credit card statements, for which no sales receipts or invoices were provided by Strycharz or located at the parish, 28290 Beaumont Road, according to the letter.

Also, $171,877 was paid for tuition or other educational expenses for the children of the former business manager, Mary Beth Geier, and her father was paid $45,150 for acting as an adviser, Atwell said.

“Fr. Strycharz did not sufficiently justify how this man served the parish, if at all,” according to the letter.

Geier was not immediately available Sunday evening

“In the same vein of hiring family members,” Atwell said, “there is no good account of why Royal Painting Services was paid $149,705.”

Strycharz’s brother, Tad Strycharz, of North Naples, is the owner of Royal Painting Services, according to state records.

Tad Strycharz hung up Sunday night on the reporter upon questioning about being named in the letter as someone who received questionable church funds.

The church recently completed a multi-million dollar expansion. However, if the painting was part of that construction, the documentation was not available to support that, Atwell said.

Stan Strycharz, who has only communicated to the Daily News over the course of this year through the public relations firm hired to support him, at a scheduled live event organized by his supporters or through email, did not immediately respond to a request for comment via email on Sunday night.

After learning of the results of the audit following the Sunday evening mass, several parishioners said it’s been a difficult year for the church’s Hispanic community as well as the English-speaking community.

“Many of the Spanish-speaking people are annoyed by this group, Save the Diocese of Southwest Florida,” said Neil Lewi, of Bonita Springs.

Lewi’s wife, originally of Puerto Rico, declined to comment, citing that it felt like gossip.

That was a common reason for parishioners to decline comment or decline to share their name after commenting Sunday.

Lewi, originally from New York, reiterated his wife's sentiments regarding the Hispanic community, and shared his perception of what both of their communities have in common.

“They (Save the Diocese of Southwest Florida members) are completely undermining the bishop and the church. He (Strycharz) is completely out of control,” said Lewi.

Wragg declined comment on that perception.

In the past year, parishioners, particularly Strycharz’s supporters of Save the Diocese of Southwest, have made frequent requests to the Diocese for updates on the investigation wondering why it was taking so long.

“The findings took so long to receive, and remain unresolved, because Fr. Strycharz—despite my repeated requests—continually refused to fully cooperate, waited until mid-February to meet with the auditors, and offered no reasonable or acceptable explanation for the expense,” Dewane wrote in the letter.

Strycharz remains on paid administrative leave “at the moment,” Atwell said. The Diocese has yet to decide what, if any, civil, criminal or canonical action it will take, he said.

The personal allegations of whether Strycharz violated his priestly vows by fathering a child, as well as the Diocese’s accusation of Strycharz disobedience to the bishop, have yet to be addressed, Atwell said.

It was within the parish that these concerns arose, he said.

“The life of a priest is more than about finances,” Atwell said. “There are also questions regarding chastity and obedience.”

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dov writes:

Who is lying? Bishop? or Chancellor

The Diocese tightened up financial controls, requiring all parishes to deposit their entire weekly collections automatically into approved bank accounts, monitored and managed by the diocese. The diocese takes 26% as tax/cathedraticum/faith appeal, and "permits" pastor or his business manager to write checks for parish activities from the balance. All parish expenditures must be audited annually. The Chancery has reached down into the parishes specifying the compensation for DREs, music ministers, custodians etc. No second collections are permitted and appeals for funds going outside diocese are prohibited—unless approved by the diocese—and there are very few approvals. Parishes are not permitted to raise funds for any purpose except through collections approved and monitored (and subject to the tax) by the diocese.

The Diocese reorganized its financial holdings and property ownership. All are divided into two parts: part in a Foundation (with Bishop as sole trustee and without audit) and part in General Diocesan Operations (audited, but the audit is worthless as the auditors refuse to render an opinion of fairness--because of frequent movement of funds between the two sets of books and no audit of the Foundation.) One member of the diocesan office (who requests anonymity) reported that the bishop purchased a large and lavish new property for his “palace,” miles from the Cathedral and the chancery in a remote and inaccessible location. Refurbishment costs exceeded budget by a factor of two. At the same time, funding of Catholic Charities was seriously reduced because of bad economic performance.

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