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Former deacon gets 6 years for stealing $317,000 from church

Updated: February 7, 2011 12:33PM

A former deacon and business manager who admitted he stole more than $317,000 from his West Chicago church was sentenced Monday to six years in prison.

George Valdez pilfered the funds from St. Mary’s Catholic Church, using the money to pay credit card bills, personal expenses and even buy himself $10,000 worth of Chicago Bears and White Sox tickets.

The 58-year-old West Chicago man had faced up to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to felony theft for siphoning off the money between 2006 and 2009 while he served as the church’s business manager.

The thefts occurred even as the church closed its parochial school because of financial problems, though church officials said when Valdez was charged last year that the thefts didn’t cause the school closing.

Valdez’s thefts, however, “certainly” increased the church’s debt, church officials said at the time.

As part of a plea deal with DuPage County prosecutors, Valdez pleaded guilty to one theft count and was sentenced to six years behind bars--the minimum sentence he faced. Prosecutors dropped 29 other theft counts against him.

Valdez offered a tearful apology before Judge Kathryn Creswell imposed the prison term, which likely will keep Valdez behind bars for about 2 1/2 years.

“I just wanted to say I’m sorry to my family and my parish,” Valdez said, his voice breaking. “For the sins I committed, I just want to ask forgiveness.”

Prosecutors said Valdez--a long-time deacon at the church--had been unemployed before church officials hired him as business manager in June 2006.

“Three months after he started as business manager, he started stealing from his own church,” prosecutor Helen Kapas-Erdman said.

Valdez used about $18,000 in stolen funds to pay his credit card bills and also wrote about $25,000 in personal checks to himself from a church account, authorities said.

Defense attorney Nicholas Kirkeles said Valdez was trying to help his family when he stole the funds.

“He was just trying to do things for his family he just couldn’t afford to do,” Kirkeles said.”

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