On Monday, Jonathan Wehrle, founding pastor of St. Martha Parish in Okemos, Michigan, was charged with embezzlement.
An Okemos priest arrested Saturday on the 39th anniversary of his ordination was charged Monday afternoon with embezzlement from his church.
The Rev. Jonathan Wayne Wehrle, 66, was arrested Saturday at his home in Williamston. He was charged Monday with embezzlement of $100,000 or more in 55th District Court in Mason.
He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Magistrate Mark Blumer set bond at $5,000.
“I’ve known Father for almost 30 years, he’s not a thief and he is not an embezzler,” said Wehrle’s attorney, Lawrence Nolan. “This is a guy who dedicated his life to the Catholic Church.”
The Catholic Diocese of Lansing announced last week that Wehrle, the founding pastor of St. Martha Parish in Okemos, was placed on administrative leave May 9 during an investigation into “possible significant embezzlement” at the church.
A statement from the diocese said the possible embezzlement was uncovered by independent auditors and referred to police.
Detective First Lt. Thomas DeClercq, commander of the Michigan State Police 1st District special investigations section, said his unit has worked closely with the diocese to expedite imaging of computers so as not to interfere with school or administrative functions of the church.
DeClercq said the investigation into embezzlement at the church is ongoing and additional charges are anticipated.
Today, The Lansing Journal reports that Jonathan Wehrle used $1.85 million to purchase and renovate his home. Beth LeBlanc writes:
Auditors believe an Okemos priest charged with embezzlement Monday spent about $1.85 million in parish funds on his home.
Check stubs and invoices indicate funds from St. Martha Parish in Okemos were spent on work and materials at Wehrle’s Noble Road home, according to testimony at a court hearing Monday.
The 10-acre Williamston property, according to county assessing records, includes an 11,345-square-foot home with a cash value of $1.48 million. The property also has three barns ranging from 1,792 to 2,304 square feet with a combined cash value of about $148,000.
Taxes on the property in 2016 were $25,106, according to county records.