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Marcin Garbacz

Garbacz

A former Rapid City priest went to great lengths to conceal his theft of diocese donations and spent the stolen money on chalices, statues and other artwork, according to his indictment. 

Marcin Garbacz was indicted in late May by a grand jury at the federal courthouse in Rapid City on 50 counts of wire fraud, nine counts of money laundering and one count of transporting stolen money after allegedly stealing more than $150,000 in cash donations from the diocese between July 2012 to April 2018.

Garbacz had $10,556 on him when he was arrested May 10 by an IRS agent at the Seattle airport, where he had booked a one-way flight to his home country of Poland, according to the indictment and other court records. That same day, a federal judge ordered Garbacz to be transferred to South Dakota, but he has not been booked into the Pennington County Jail, according to the jail website. 

The arrest affidavit is permanently sealed after a federal prosecutor said it contains information about an ongoing investigation and could lead to witness intimidation, court records show. But the indictment contains detailed information on Garbacz's alleged theft tactics. 

Garbacz joined the diocese in 2004 and worked at various churches, according to the indictment. In 2012, he was removed from his assignment in Faith due to mismanaging the parish's finances and transferred to Rapid City. 

He allegedly began stealing cash collected during mass and depositing it into his personal account at Black Hills Federal Credit Union in July 2012. Garbacz took the money after it was collected but before it was counted, and early in the morning or late at night to avoid being detected. 

Between 2012-2018, staff at the St. Therese church became "suspicious of unusually low cash collection," the indictment says. The church's pastor and bookkeeper began using tamper-proof cash collection bags and installed a video surveillance system in March 2018 to see if someone was stealing the money.

But Garbacz found a way around those deterrents, the indictment says. To continue stealing, he went into the vault room since he knew the code, opened the tamper-proof bags and stole some of the cash, placed the remaining cash in identical tamper-proof bags he bought, left the new bags in the vault, and forged the writing on the old bags onto the new ones. 

Parish workers became suspicious when they realized bags were missing so they checked the surveillance footage, the indictment says. But the video had been turned off or malfunctioned when the thefts would have occurred. 

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In April, the church installed two new cameras without Garbacz's knowledge and he was caught in the act between 2:30-3 a.m. on April 23, 2018. He denied stealing donations when confronted by Bishop Robert Gruss later that day, but admitted to it once he was shown the video evidence. 

Pastors noticed that Garbacz had several custom-made chalices and other artwork worth tens of thousands of dollars, and his financial records shows him describing purchases such as "statue" or "chalice," the indictment says.  

Garbacz was suspended from his ministry duties in May and sent to a six-month treatment program at the Saint Luke Consultation Center in St. Louis, a Catholic center that provides outpatient therapy to clergy and religious brothers, according to the center's website and a letter Garbacz sent to a state judge.

In July 2018, Garbacz closed his account with Black Hills Federal Credit Union, took out $15,379 and transferred it to a new account in St. Louis, according to the indictment. Despite having no known source of income, he deposited $39,000 into the new account between July and October. 

Garbacz left the treatment program in November and moved to Seattle without Gruss' permission, according to December 2018 and May 2019 diocese newsletters. He then took out $50,007 from his St. Louis account and transferred it to a bank in Kent, Washington in January 2019, the indictment says.

After a federal agent contacted him May 6, 2019, to tell him he was under investigation, Garbacz took out most of his cash from the account between May 8 and May 10, according to the indictment. He scheduled his flight to Poland at 1:05 a.m. on May 10. 

If Garbacz is found guilty, he must forfeit $10,556, his chalices, and possibly more money and items, the indictment says. 

In October 2018, Garbacz pleaded guilty in state court to first-degree petty theft for stealing from the diocese and received a suspended imposition of sentence — which means his record will be sealed from the public — from Judge Bernard Schuchmann.

Garbacz indicated he was thinking about leaving the priesthood in a Sept. 26 letter he wrote to Schuchmann asking for the suspended imposition of sentence. He said he was considering become a nurse, social worker or counselor, and having a misdemeanor on his record could prevent him from being admitted to an academic institution or obtaining a license.

His initial appearance at the federal court in Rapid City has yet to be scheduled. 

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

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