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Gambling priest gets 3 years prison in Vegas theft
Priest with gambling habit sentenced to 3 years for $650,000 theft from his Las Vegas parish
By The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) ' A Roman Catholic priest was sentenced Friday to three years and one month in federal prison and ordered to repay $650,000 he acknowledged siphoning from his northwest Las Vegas parish to support his gambling habit.

Muffled sobs erupted from a courtroom packed with supporters, but Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe, 59, stood straight and made no reaction as U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan faulted him for accepting responsibility but "hedging his bet" by blaming the theft on a gambling addiction.

"You abused a position of trust, Mr. McAuliffe, the judge said, dispensing with any church title for the priest who many in the parish referred to as Father Kevin while he hid a weakness for casinos and video poker. "You betrayed people who depended on you."

McAuliffe offered a remorseful apology, saying he felt "guilt, shame and self-loathing," noting that he had "rightly" lost his positions of authority in the church, and asking the judge for leniency so he could make restitution, help others with gambling addictions "and atone for what I have done."

Defense attorney Margaret Stanish brought in a gambling addiction expert to testify and asked the judge for probation so McAuliffe could continue getting counseling for his gambling addiction, keep practicing as a priest and pay restitution to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Summerlin.

"Is it all about retribution?" she asked the judge. "This court has the ability to fashion a punishment that takes into account not only the offense but the individual. He would not be here but for a gambling addiction."

Deputy U.S. Attorney Christina Brown countered that there was no reason McAuliffe should get a break, and the judge picked a 37-month sentence ' more severe than the 33 months recommended by federal probation officials. McAuliffe could have received up to 60 years in prison. The judge also sentenced McAuliffe to three years of supervised release following prison.

Outside court, longtime parishioner Regina Hauck, 80, called the judge fair but the sentence unfair. She said she wanted forgiveness.

"I know him. He's a wonderful priest," Hauck said of McAuliffe. "But I think he's a sick man, and everyone makes a mistake."

McAuliffe pleaded guilty in October, before an indictment or criminal complaint was filed, to three counts of federal mail fraud for falsifying documents sent in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to the archdiocese.

McAuliffe had already been removed as pastor of the northwest Las Vegas congregation of more than 8,000 families and relieved of diocese duties. A month before, the Rev. James Jankowski, interim pastor of the church, pleaded for parishioners to be patient.

Bishop Joseph Pepe, head of the regional church administration since 2001, issued a statement Friday saying he was "saddened that the actions of Monsignor McAuliffe have caused hurt to so many people" and that he was praying for the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton congregation.

Pepe said the diocese and parish cooperated with federal authorities, and that church administrators were handling the matter internally.

McAuliffe had complete control from to 2002 to 2010 of church activities and finances and was able to hide his embezzlement because he was a signatory to financial statements to the Las Vegas Diocese and Catholic Archdiocese in San Francisco, Brown said in presentencing documents.

When confronted by the FBI last May, "the defendant for two hours offered various explanations as to how his earnings supported his gambling," she said. "When these explanations failed, agents asked the defendant if he stole money from the church, which the defendant denied."

Stanish told the judge in court documents that McAuliffe began paying restitution to the church in May and had paid $13,420. He is to begin serving his sentence on April 13.

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