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Priest who used church cash for gambling gets 60 days in jail

The Rev. John Regan arrives DuPage County Courthouse for sentencing August for stealing $400000 from St. Walter Catholic Church Roselle

The Rev. John Regan arrives at the DuPage County Courthouse for sentencing in August for stealing $400,000 from St. Walter Catholic Church in Roselle while he was pastor, gambling much of the cash away at Chicago area riverboat casinos. | Brian Jackson~S

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Updated: October 19, 2011 4:18AM

Rev. John Regan described himself as an “action gambler” who frequented suburban riverboat casinos for fast-paced games of blackjack and craps — often at tables where the minimum bet was $25.

But the Catholic priest was betting heavily with money he stole from the Roselle church where he was pastor, sneaking out of the rectory to gamble in the middle of the night so he wouldn’t be seen by parishioners.

Regan was sentenced Tuesday to 60 days in jail for looting nearly $300,000 from St. Walter Parish by funneling church offerings and contributions from parishioners into a secret bank account he controlled.

“You went out in the darkness of night with other people’s money to feed a thrill,” DuPage County Judge John Kinsella said as he sentenced Regan. “It is an indescribable level of betrayal you entered into.”

Kinsella also ordered Regan to pay $295,000 in restitution, serve 150 days of work-release and perform 500 hours of community service work. In addition, Regan was placed on four years’ probation and ordered to abstain from gambling.

Regan faced up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty in June to felony theft for stealing the cash between 2006 and 2008 while he led the west suburban parish.

He tearfully apologized for the thefts before being sentenced but said he couldn’t control actions he knew were wrong because of a gambling addiction.

“I’ve come to the realization that how I could do it was because I have a gambling addiction,” Regan said, pausing to wipe away tears. “My gambling addiction doesn’t know what vocation I have. It just knows I’m a human being.”

Still, he acknowledged that his actions harmed his church and the parishioners he said he loved.

“I have hurt the parishioners deeply,” said Regan, 47. “What I did was reprehensible.”

Regan, who remains a priest though he is not assigned to a parish, nonetheless asked Kinsella to place him only on probation, saying he has “suffered mightily” as he struggled with his addiction. He has undergone eight months of in-patient treatment and continues to go to therapy and 12-step meetings.

Kinsella curtly rejected Regan’s request to avoid a jail sentence.

“You’re going to leave this courtroom in handcuffs. Such a sentence is warranted in this case — there’s no doubt in my mind,” Kinsella said as he ordered Regan taken into custody to immediately began serving his jail term. After Regan completes his 60-day jail term, he will spend 150 nights in jail, but be freed to work during the day.

Prosecutor Helen Kapas sought a 10-year prison term for Regan, derisively describing him as the “riverboat priest” who gambled at casinos in Elgin and Joliet with money looted from his own parishioners.

“He likes games, action games,” Kapas said of Regan. “This defendant has betrayed the trust and authority placed in him by his church and by his parishioners.”

Kapas contended Regan stole as much as $410,000 from the parish he served. He steered $295,000 in church contributions into a “special needs” account he created, Kapas said, then withdrew that money at ATMs in several casinos or transferred it into a personal bank account.

But she noted that Regan also deposited $125,000 in his personal bank account during the two-year span when he served as pastor at St. Walter, though he earned only $25,000 annually as a priest.

Regan, however, testified that money came from casino winnings and other sources — not from stolen church funds.

He said he has wrestled with his gambling addiction since 2002 when he worked at a Joliet church facility near a riverboat casino there, saying he was an “action gambler” who craved the thrill of betting.

Regan sat calmly as he was sentenced, then shook hands with defense attorneys John Donahue and Jim Ryan before being taken into custody.

“We think it’s a fair sentence. We think it’s a wise sentence,” Donahue said outside the courtroom.

A parishioner who testified against Regan said he was satisfied with the sentence.

“I can live with it,” said Brian Mraz, a church parishioner for more than 50 years. “Our parish needs to move on.”

Nearly two dozen other parishioners and friends who support Regan also attended the sentencing, though none would comment afterward.

Earlier, one parishioner said she has forgiven Regan because his addiction left him unable to control his actions.

“It’s an addiction, it’s a sickness,” said parishioner Jan Maglio. “In my heart, I felt he was a very good man.”

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