A Galway-born priest charged with embezzling over $50,000 (€47,000) from an elderly parishioner in Florida was a vocal supporter of one of two jailed Irish clerics accused of defrauding their parish of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Fr Nicholas King, aged 73, is charged with using money belonging to the elderly woman to fund a lifestyle “beyond his means”, according to police in Brevard County near Orlando.

The priest, who officially stood down as pastor of the parish he led for over 20 years just days before his September arrest, was a public supporter of Francis Guinan, one of the two Irish clerics propelled to nationwide and international infamy over their plundering of church coffers to fund gambling trips, rare coin collections, and homes.

Guinan, from Offaly, spent over three years in jail after being found guilty by a jury of stealing some $100,000.

The other, Kilkenny-born John Skehan, aged 81 when sentenced in 2009, served just under a year of a 14-month sentence after pleading guilty to stealing close to $400,000.

Fr King, who had told reporters at the time of the trial he was a friend of Guinan’s for 45 years, gave evidence in defence of the accused priest. According to court documents, Fr King testified that a parish priest has discretion to pay for a past employee’s child to attend a Catholic high school and to pay for vacations for the pastor out of the parish’s operating account.

And Fr King, speaking after Guinan was convicted and sentenced, stated: “Obviously, we’re devastated, but this should never have happened in a public forum.”

Fr King, however, now faces felony fraud and theft charges with claims he moved money to his own personal account from a money trust account set up to help the parish. He spent hundreds of dollars on restaurant meals, made a $9,000 down payment on a car, gave $6,000 to his sister, and spent $900 at a gourmet chocolate shop.

The former pastor of St Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockledge was arrested on charges of grand theft from the 79-year-old woman in excess of $50,000 and organised fraud involving funds over $50,000. He was alleged to have taken $88,000 in total.

Donna Seyferth, spokeswoman for the Rockledge Police Department, said the priest had three residences, including a beach condominium, and lived far above his annual $28,000 salary. Fr King recently returned from a trip to Ireland, police said.

In a statement read to parishioners following Fr King’s arrest, Orlando Bishop and Limerick native John Noonan said “the diocese is co-operating with Rockledge Police Department and that Fr King has been removed from ministry pending the outcome of the investigation”.

Fr King studied at St Mary’s College in Galway, St Patrick’s College, Thurles, and All Hallows College.

He moved to Florida in the 1960s.


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