Charges of Corruption in Cleveland

If you read the New York Times today, you probably saw the story about the trial of the former assistant treasurer of the Diocese of Cleveland, who, along with the former chief financial officer of the diocese, is accused of various criminal charges, including money laundering and tax evasion. Both men have implicated former diocesan officials, including Anthony Pilla, the former bishop, and Rev. John Wright, the dioceses former financial and legal secretary.

The trials are likely to be very ugly and many in Cleveland are bracing for the worst. Anticipating the negative press coverage that is likely to ensue, Richard Lennon, the current Bishop of Cleveland, sent a letter to diocesan priests several weeks ago about the upcoming trials. Some priests read the letter from the pulpit this past weekend. The text of the letter can be found below.

Dear Father X,

I am writing to make you aware that the trial in the case of The United States of America v. Joseph H. Smith and Anton Zgoznik is currently scheduled to begin on 15 August 2007. The trial is likely to generate coverage by the media.

We pray that the defendants receive a fair trial and that media coverage is fair and balanced. Given the nature of various pretrial motions and statements by the defendants counsel, however, it is reasonable to assume that the defendants may try to portray the Diocese and those associated with it in a light favorable to the defense. As a result, media coverage may at times seem sensational.

As you follow the developments in the trial, please keep in mind that:

The Diocese of Cleveland is not on trial; it is the victim of crimes alleged against the defendants.

The Diocese produced thousands of documents and has cooperated fully with the Department of Justice, which thoroughly examined various allegations and brought the criminal charges it determined were warranted.

Any suggestion that those involved with the administration of the Diocese knew or approved of the activities charged against the defendants, or engaged in similar conduct, is false.

The Diocese does not condone criminal activity; as soon as we became aware of the allegations, we informed the proper authorities, and we conducted a thorough internal investigation.

The Diocese was defrauded by a person who held a position of trust and by his business associate. While it is difficult to protect against fraudulent conduct, the Diocese has implemented steps since this matter was first discovered to strengthen its financial controls.

Catholics and all others who generously support the spiritual and social work of the Church can be confident of continued good stewardship by the Diocese.

Should you receive inquiries from parishioners, you may wish to share these thoughts with them. If you have any questions, please feed free to contact Bob Tayek at 216-696-6525, extension 4460.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Most Rev. Richard G. Lennon
Bishop of Cleveland

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