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Former Rapid City priest sentenced to 7.75 years in prison for stealing from diocese
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Former Rapid City priest sentenced to 7.75 years in prison for stealing from diocese

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Marcin Garbacz

Marcin Garbacz

A former Rapid City priest will serve 7.75 years in federal prison and owes more than $300,000 in restitution after being convicted of 65 felony financial crimes related to stealing donations from the diocese.

Marcin Garbacz “exploited his position as a priest” and “continues to play the victim,” prosecutor Benjamin Patterson said Monday at the federal courthouse in Rapid City.

Garbacz, 42, was sentenced after a jury convicted him of 50 counts of wire fraud, nine counts of money laundering, five counts of filing false tax returns, and one count of transporting stolen money between 2012 and 2018.

Garbacz apologized to parishioners, saying he unfairly harmed them while he was angry with the Diocese of Rapid City and the Catholic Church. Among other complaints, he said he was upset that church doctrine considers gay men like him “intrinsically disordered.”

Your crimes were serious, deliberate and show evidence of a “sophisticated criminal mind,” Judge Jeffrey Viken told Garbacz.

Viken said 4.75 years of the sentence is for the crimes related to stealing from the diocese while the remaining three years is for stealing from the IRS and American people by filing false tax returns. Viken also sentenced Garbacz to three years of supervised release once he’s completed his prison term.

Garbacz owes $258,696 to the diocese that will be equally divided among the three Rapid City churches he stole from, Viken said. He also owes $46,008 to the IRS for the tax crimes for a total of $304,704 in restitution.

“The diocese trusts in the judicial system and appreciates its dedication in making sure that justice is served in this case,” the diocese said in an emailed statement.

About a dozen community members and a half-dozen priests attended the hearing. None of them gave victim impact statements during the hearing and the priests declined interviews.

However, priests from the three victimized churches — the Cathedral, Saint Therese and Blessed Sacrament — submitted sealed victim impact statements to Viken. Father Michel Mulloy, the former diocesan administrator, sent a statement before the diocese announced this fall that he is under investigation after being accused of sexually abusing a child in the early 1980s.

Garbacz received 11 letters of support from the community that were written before it was announced last Friday that he’s facing new child sexual abuse charges.

Garbacz made an unusually long statement compared to other defendants who chose to speak during their sentencing hearing.

“I’m really sorry for what I did … I know that I violated their trust,” he said.

Garbacz said he harmed parishioners who donated to the church and those who could have been helped with the funds. He did not directly apologize to his fellow priests, the former bishop he served under or the diocese.

“I disagreed with the institution” and was treated as a “second-class citizen,” he said.

Garbacz said he was at odds with the Catholic Church over its teachings on same-sex attraction. He also said the diocese discouraged priests from showing any signs of weakness and gave them unrealistic and unclear goals.

“I felt I needed to leave the job,” he said of why he moved to Washington and started working at FedEx after completing a treatment program in St. Louis instead of returning to his priestly duties in Rapid City.

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Garbacz said the steps former Bishop Robert Gruss said he needed to take to be un-suspended were unrealistic. He also said he realized he already lost credibility in the diocese and wanted to work on taking care of himself. 

Garbacz said he wants to continue therapy and find a new career so he can pay his restitution.

“I can’t explain it away,” defense lawyer Jennifer Albertson said of her client's crimes. 

Albertson said Garbacz differed from many of her clients in that he had a good upbringing. However it was probably “psychologically damaging” to be gay while growing up in Poland and then becoming a Catholic priest, she said. 

She said the diocese had questioned whether it was a good idea to bring Garbacz to the diocese but did not explain what she meant by that. The diocese did not immediately respond to a message about this.

Albertson said Garbacz ultimately committed a “crime of opportunity” since he had access to where the donations were stored and the diocese did a poor job accounting for the cash. It then “got out of control.”

She asked for a prison term that would let Garbacz return to work and pay restitution while he’s still young and healthy.

“Those people deserve that money back,” Albertson said of the parishioners who donated. “Those are the people he really hurt.”

Patterson asked for a seven-year sentence.

Monday was the first time Garbacz apologized and expressed that he knew he hurt people, Patterson said. He said Garbacz recently said he went to trial to show how the church was bad at tracking money and that the expensive items he bought — which included a $10,000 diamond ring, a grand piano and a Cadillac — were all used for church purposes.

“He can’t see past himself,” Patterson said.

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Some of the chalices, monstrances and sculptures that former Rapid City priest Marcin Garbacz bought with money he stole from parishioners. 

He said Garbacz committed “multiple acts in multiple states,” caused parishioners to stop donating to the church, harmed priests who were his friends, and made the diocese lose credibility.

Garbacz’s crimes and concealment were complex, Patterson added. Among other acts, Garbacz repeatedly stole money, committed his thefts during the night, bought tamper proof bags, forged signatures, lied about how he paid for expensive items, made multiple deposits to avoid IRS suspicion, took out his money once he was caught and prepared to flee to Poland. 

The fact that $40,000 of Garbacz’s stolen money remains missing shows how he covered up his crimes, Patterson said.

Garbacz will not be headed directly to prison because he’s now facing the separate indictment related to child sexual abuse.

He’s charged with possessing child porn between July 2011 and May 2019 and “engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place” by traveling to another country and having sexual conduct with a boy under the age of 18.

Garbacz used to work as a parish priest but became a teacher and chaplain at the Rapid City Catholic School System by July 2012, Patterson said during the trial. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. ​

— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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