Prosecution Charges Monsignor With Using Bingo Profits for Himself
HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) _ A Roman Catholic monsignor used his clerical collar to cover an illegal bingo game that pulled in $2 million a year, including thousands of dollars for the priest himself, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.
Monsignor John F. Morales conspired with a Florida man and two steelworkers union officials to skim profits from bingo under the guise of church charity, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Vecchiarelli told a U.S. District Court jury.
Morales, former Steelworkers Local 1014 officials Leroy Williams and Phillip Cyprian, and the Florida man, Lewis Del Grosso, went on trial on gaming charges brought in a 25-count indictment.
Morales’ attorney ridiculed the prosecution’s case, and said church- sponsored bingo games were legal under federal law.
″Your federal government and Department of Justice saw fit to dedicate hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to investigate a man of cloth,″ attorney Max Cohen told the jurors.
With as many as 1,200 players, the twice-weekly game made money for Morales’ parish, but the priest never profited, his attorney said.
″He had no thought he was doing anything illegal,″ Cohen said.
Vecchiarelli painted Morales as the keystone of the operation. He agreed to lend his church’s name when first approached by a Florida bingo operator, then met with his co-defendants in church offices to concoct a cover story after federal agents raided the game, she said.
Morales is charged with lying to a grand jury, conspiring to defraud the government, falsifying income tax returns and operating an illegal bingo game.
Del Grosso, 71, of South Miami, was charged with operating the games and obstructing an Internal Revenue Service investigation.
Cyprian, a former Local 1014 president, is charged with embezzlement and falsifying union records to protect the game after an anti-bingo steelworker was elected local president. Williams, a former local official, is charged with falsifying documents.
A fifth defendant, Seymour Klein, 61, also of South Miami, was granted a separate trial Monday after he complained of a heart condition.
The bingo games were held at a steelworkers’ union hall in Gary from 1983 until the raid in 1986.
While bingo games can be operated legally for charity in Indiana, prosecutors allege the organizers tried to hide violations. Paid workers were told to identify themselves as church volunteers and chartered buses that brought players from three states were parked nearly a mile from the hall to hide the size of the operation, the indictment said.
The games were advertised as fund-raisers for Nativity of Our Saviour - Morales’ church in Portage - and earlier for St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Gary, where Morales had served as pastor, prosecutors said.
Although the games brought in $100,000 in an evening, as little as $100 was actually deposited, the indictment alleged.
After the indictment, Bishop Norbert F. Gaughan of the Gary Diocese defended Morales. He called the priest a ″faithful servant of the Catholic Church″ victimized by overzealous prosecutors.
″Please pray that I can shoulder this heavy cross until such time as the Lord sees fit to lift it from me,″ Morales asked his 1,700-family congregation after the indictment was unsealed.