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Priest convicted of stealing from churches appeals sentence

December 17, 2021 GMT

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A former Rapid City priest convicted of stealing donations from Catholic churches is appealing his sentence.

Marcin Garbacz’s attorney told Eighth Circuit appeals court judges Thursday that the priest was ordered to pay restitution for money that wasn’t necessarily stolen.

But the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Koliner, said the priest deposited about $260,000 in cash that couldn’t be otherwise explained.

After a weeklong jury trial in early 2020, Garbacz was convicted for stealing from three Catholic churches in Rapid City over several years.

He deposited some of the money in his bank accounts and bought luxury items such as gold-plated chalices, bronze statues, a $10,000 diamond ring and a grand piano, according to court documents.

The jury found him guilty of 50 counts of wire fraud as well as money laundering, transporting stolen money, and filing false tax returns, South Dakota Public Broadcasting reported.

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Federal Judge Jeffrey Viken sentenced Garbacz to serve nearly eight years in federal prison and ordered him to make restitution of more than $258,000, to be split equally among the three churches.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Bryan Dean said the government did not have evidence at trial that all the money Garbacz deposited was stolen. But Koliner argued Garbacz was caught on camera stealing deposit bags from one of the churches and admitted he had been stealing donations for years.

Garbacz is asking the Eighth Circuit to reverse and vacate his convictions or remand the sentence for a new restitution determination.