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Crime & Courts

Convicted priest says judge ordered him to pay back more money than he stole

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A former Rapid City priest convicted of stealing donations from Catholic churches is appealing his sentence to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

At oral arguments on Thursday, Dec. 16, the defense attorney told appellate judges that the priest was ordered to pay restitution for money that wasn’t necessarily stolen. But the prosecutor said the priest deposited about $260,000 in cash that couldn’t be otherwise explained.

After a weeklong jury trial in early 2020, Marcin Garbacz was convicted for stealing donations 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.

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

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

At oral arguments before the Eighth Circuit, Assistant Federal Public Defender Bryan Dean said the government did not have evidence at trial that all the money Garbacz deposited was stolen.

“Priests testified that Catholic priests could get cash tips from parishioners for performing services like baptisms and especially weddings,” he said. “They testified that priests can get cash gifts for holidays.”

Dean also noted that Garbacz told others that he received money from his family in Poland .

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Koliner said Garbacz was caught on camera stealing deposit bags from one of the churches and admitted he had been stealing donations for years.

“What he was depositing are ones, fives, twenties, change,” Koliner said. “It really is sort of incredible to think that you have a wedding and you slip the priest seventeen dollars and forty-five cents in change.”

Koliner told judges that no one really knows how much Garbacz stole from the church, but he deposited about $260,000 between 2012 and 2018. Koliner said this long-term embezzlement involved perhaps thousands of violations of trust over the years.

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

The former priest faces even more prison time for his conviction on a federal sex crime that carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Garbacz pleaded guilty in November to engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place. In exchange the government dropped two counts of possession of child pornography and one count of tampering with a witness or victim.

Garbacz is set for sentencing on that charge on March 11, 2022, in Rapid City .