WATERBURY, Conn. —A well-known Roman Catholic priest who stole $1.3 million from the Sacred Heart parish over seven years said he "had grown to hate being a priest" because the archdiocese had given him the "worst church assignments" where he would "have to fix problems made by the previous priests," according to a police affidavit.
The Rev. Kevin J. Gray, 64, was charged with first-degree larceny. Police said he used church funds to pay for hotels, restaurant meals, clothing and male escorts. Gray turned himself in to authorities Tuesday morning and was to be arraigned in Waterbury Superior Court.
Waterbury police launched an investigation after the archdiocese came to them May 27 and said it had uncovered unauthorized payments from church funds to accounts held by Gray and other suspicious transactions, according to the affidavit.
Gray wrote checks to himself, paid off his American Express bills, allowed two men to have credit cards in their names on his account and paid for various other expenses — including tuition to Harvard and rent in New York City for a man he met in Central Park — using the church's Webster Bank account, the document states.
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Gray was placed on medical leave by Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell on April 15. The priest had told people in the community he was gravely ill. No one at Sacred Heart or St. Peter and Paul Church, whose rectory Gray had been staying in, had heard from Gray since April 13.
Gray has been living with Weirui Zhong, 35, in New York City since he left the St. Peter and Paul rectory, according to the affidavit. Gray has been paying the apartment's rent as long as Zhong has been living there — since 2005.
Gray told Zhong he was an attorney for Catholic Charities in New Haven and that he had attended Georgetown Law Schools. He also told Zhong he was being treated for colon cancer at Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York.
Gray would come to New York on Wednesdays after 8 a.m. Mass. He told Zhong he had his cancer treatments on Wednesday, the affidavit states. He would then stay a few days, returning to Waterbury in time for Saturday's 4 p.m. Mass.
Zhong told police in a sworn statement that Gray has also been paying his tuition at Harvard University since 2008. He said Gray bought a piano for the apartment and paid for piano lessons, took him to dinner when they were together in New York, paid for his attorney in a court case, bought dogs for the apartment and paid the veterinarian bills and gave him large sums of money for his birthday and when Gray felt he was going to die of cancer.
While police questioned Zhong on June 10, Gray arrived at the apartment. Zhong asked police if he could speak with Gray first. In the presence of the detectives, Zhong asked Gray if he was an attorney, if he had ever attended Georgetown, if he had colon cancer and if he had ever had cancer. To all four questions, Gray answered, "No," the affidavit states.
Since May 24, 2003, $655,936.48 worth of checks from the church funds were cashed by American Express to pay for charges to Gray's account, the affidavit states.
Charges to Gray's account between May 2003 and March 2010 included $205,679.78 to restaurants in New York, Boston and Connecticut, including several visits to New York's Tavern On The Green, Boston's Legal Seafood and New Haven's Scoozzi Trattoria and Wine Bar, the affidavit states.
Gray charged nearly $150,000 in stays at high-end hotels in New York City, Boston and New Haven, including frequent stays at The Roosevelt Hotel, the W Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria in New York, police said.
The affidavit also states that Gray opened credit card accounts in the names of Manuel Paque, a man Gray met at a male strip bar, and Islagar Labrada, a man Gray met through an escort service, on Gray's own account.
Paque charged $67,755.12 between March 2006 and November 2007 for various items, including furniture, electronics and cell phone bills, as well as $5,410 to LaGuardia Community College, police said. Gray was paying for Paque to attend nursing school but stopped paying and lost contact with Paque when Paque dropped out of nursing school to attend beautician school. Gray told police he would not pay for that, the affidavit states.
Labrada charged $49,998.61 to his card from June 2003 through September 2003, police said. Among his charges were almost $9,000 in Crunch Fitness Gym membership fees, a stay at a Sheraton Hotel in Buena Vista, Fla., artwork and Louis Vuitton merchandise.
Gray was described as a popular priest in Waterbury, having served in the city for 26 years, first at St. Margaret's and St. Cecilia's churches before arriving at Sacred Heart/Sagrado Corazon.
"We are deeply saddened by the events which have recently had such a profound effect on Sacred Heart/Sagrado Corazon parish," the Rev. John P. Gatzak, director of communications for the Hartford Archdiocese, said in a statement Tuesday.
"At the financial level, the archdiocese continues to work with the parish to improve its financial controls and to address issues arising from the situation, such as insurance coverage and outstanding indebtedness. At the spiritual level, we continue to pray for healing and consolation for the parish family as it moves forward and for guidance and reconciliation for Father Gray as he encounters the legal proceedings that await him," Gatzak said.
The alleged theft began in January 2003, but it only came to light during a recent review, Gatzak has said. The money was taken from parish savings accounts as well as funds earmarked for payment of debts, including insurance payments and the cathedraticum, an annual assessment paid by parishes to the archdiocese, he said.
The church requires each parish to have a parish financial council to work with the pastor on fiscal matters, but Sacred Heart/Sagrado Corazon did not have such a panel, Gatzak said. Pastors are also required to issue annual financial reports to the archdiocese, but Gray did not comply, the archdiocese spokesman said. Both of those things helped trigger the financial review, which is done on a rotating basis at parishes throughout the archdiocese.