March 31, 2014

OTTAWA - Ottawa priest Father Joe LeClair received a one-year jail sentence Mar. 19 for stealing $134,000 from parishioners to feed a pathological gambling addiction. The priest is also required to make restitution of the $134,000 to the Ottawa Archdiocese.

LeClair, who pleaded guilty to fraud, theft and breach of trust, will also serve an additional year of probation once his prison sentence is completed.

The charges cover a five year period from 2006 to 2011, during which LeClair ran Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ottawa's Glebe neighbourhood.

More than $400,000 of church funds was unaccounted for, an audit showed. However, in the guilty plea, the Crown and the defence agreed on stolen funds of $134,000.

Ontario Court Justice Jack Nadelle read extensively from a psychiatric assessment that revealed the popular and charismatic priest suffered from a lifelong anxiety disorder.

The priest not only received medication to help with depression and anxiety, he developed an out-of-control alcohol problem, the judge said. This damaged his liver and also resulted in cognitive impairment.

LeClair also discovered gambling "served as an escape from the high expectations of work he had created," the judge said.