WHEATON, Ill. (STMW) — Massive thefts of church funds by the Rev. John Regan were so “brazen” they left lifelong Catholic Bryan Mraz questioning his trust in the clergy.

“Frankly, this incident was so brazen and over the top it has shaken my faith in priests,” Mraz testified Tuesday during a DuPage County hearing in which Regan was sentenced to 60 days in jail for stealing more than $100,000 from St. Walter Parish in Roselle between 2006 and 2008. Regan has to pay $295,000 in restitution and will serve 150 days on work release and must do 500 hours of community service work.

Prosecutors contend Regan, who pleaded guilty to the charges in June, actually stole more than $400,000 from the church, then gambled away much of the pilfered cash at suburban casinos.

Regan’s attorneys dispute he took that much money and argue he committed the thefts to feed a runaway gambling addiction.

Regan, who remains a priest but no longer serves in a parish, faces up to 15 years in prison when Judge John Kinsella sentences him for the thefts.

But Regan, who has yet to testify in his own behalf, also is eligible for probation. He has undergone treatment for a gambling addiction since being charged with the thefts.

Prosecutors argued Regan created a special needs bank account for the church shortly after taking over as pastor in June 2006, then deposited more than $295,000 into that fund in the next two years.

Bank records show only about $11,000 of that amount was used for church-related purposes, said Ray Bradford, an investigator for the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office.

The rest of the money — more than $284,000 — appeared to have been used by Regan for gambling, Bradford said.

“I believe it was opened up strictly as a slush fund to support Father Regan’s gambling habits,” Bradford testified.

Regan, who earned about $25,000 annually as a priest, also deposited more than $273,000 into his personal bank account during his tenure

More than $320,000 from those two accounts were withdrawn by Regan from ATMs at casinos in Elgin and Joliet, prosecutor Helen Kapas said, citing bank records.

Mraz, a parishioner at St. Walter for more than 50 years, said he was angry that Regan stole from members of his own church.

“When he takes other people’s hard-earned dollars, it leaves me angry and a little bitter,” Mraz said, adding he doesn’t believe Regan’s gambling addiction should earn him a reduced sentence.

“I think the claim all of this was brought on by a gambling addiction appears to be a lame excuse to try to get a lighter sentence,” Mraz said.

But other parishioners in the courtroom said they believe Regan committed the thefts because his addiction left him unable to control his actions — and they have forgiven him.

“It’s an addiction, it’s a sickness,” said parishioner Jan Maglio. “In my heart, I felt he was a very good man.”

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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