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Fr John Skehan at a court appearance in January this year

Embezzlement priest ordered to remain in jail

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Fr John Skehan at a court appearance in January this year

ONE of the two Florida-based Irish priests guilty of stealing thousands of dollars from their Palm Beach parish was told last week he must finish his 14-month jail sentence, despite suffering from cancer and feeling suicidal.

Father John Skehan, who was jailed at the beginning of May for bilking in excess of $100,000 from St. Vincent Ferrer parish in Delray Beach, pleaded guilty in February to the charges.

Police in Delray Beach charged Skehan, 81, and Father Francis Guinan, 66, in September 2006 with stealing offertory money from St. Vincent Ferrer.

Both men were charged with first-degree grand theft of over $100,000. According to prosecutors, the priests stole more than $8.6 million over a 40-year period.

According to Skehan’s defense, the priest, who hails from Johnstown, Co. Kilkenny, discovered three days before he was to report to prison that he had prostate cancer.

Skehan’s lawyers asked that their client serve out the remainder of his sentence under house arrest, arguing that he may die before his May 2010 release date.

Judge Jeffrey Colbath said Skehan’s lawyer, James Eisenberg, didn’t produce enough evidence to suggest that the Irish priest was in danger of dying in the next year. He denied the motion and sent Skehan back to Martin Correctional Institution in Indiantown, Florida.

Skehan was emotional when he left the Palm Beach Circuit Court last week.

Skehan’s successor, Guinan, from Birr, Co. Offaly, was sentenced to four years in prison last February for also stealing from the parish.

An affidavit from accountancy firm Michaelson and Company of West Palm Beach calculated that over $8.5 million of offertory cash was embezzled during Skehan and Guinan’s tenure.

The affidavit also stated that Skehan owned a condo in Riviera Beach and Deerfield Beach in Florida and another house in Co. Clare. It also listed a pub in Kilkenny.

It also reported that Skehan deposited nearly $1.6 million in four bank accounts. He used $134,075 to pay for his supposed lover's expenses, while $11,688 was given to family members. He used another $268,630 for personal expenses, including dental work, car payments, property taxes and payments to his credit card.

Guinan is reported to have spent up to $90,000 on trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas where he is alleged to have used the money for gambling and drinking.

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