Philadelphia Archdiocese Monsignor William Dombrow embezzled $535,258 meant for aging and retired priests, and was forgiven by church officials, but the judge wasn’t so ready to absolve him of liability. He will now spend eight months in prison.
U.S. District Judge Gerald J. Pappert handed down the eight-month sentence to Dombrow, a recovering alcoholic who served as the rector of a retirement home for elderly priests. In addition to the prison sentence, he was ordered to pay $533,258 in restitution to the archdiocese.
The judge pointed out that the defendant used the stolen money to pay his gambling debts, buy concert tickets, and pay for expenses in international trips, according to local reports.
The judge expressed surprise at what he described as the “no harm, no foul” attitude that many of Dombrow’s supporters — including leaders of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia — espoused in relation to his crimes.
“What happened here,” Pappert said, “is that someone with a weakness took great advantage of the generosity of countless people and saw an opportunity to fund a lifestyle — and to a certain extent an addiction — with other people’s money.”
Because Dombrow had a history of addiction, he worked with other priests who dealt with similar issues. That work was what the church leadership wanted to focus on.
Dombrow’s attorney argued that the stolen money was used to benefit the priests in his care — the concert tickets, for example, allegedly went to them — and that he agreed to cooperate once he had been caught. But not everyone bought what the defense was selling.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Rotella scoffed at what she saw as an attempt to portray the monsignor solely as a victim of a gambling addiction. He spent thousands, too, on theater and Philly Pops tickets, fancy dinners, and travel to Florida, Aruba, and Italy.
The lavish lifestyle he pursued, she said, extended well beyond casino doors. And despite his expressions of remorse, Dombrow has made no effort to pay back any of the money he stole.
“He ate whatever he wanted,” Rotella said. “He spent whatever he wanted. He’s going to casinos. He’s taking trips.”
The judge acknowledged Dombrow’s record of helping addicted priests, but he also took into account that it was his job to do so. He focused more on the defendant taking advantage of the church, ultimately giving him more than the defense sought but less than the federal sentencing guidelines recommendation of two and a half years.
“We have someone here who has done an awful lot of good for an awful lot of people,” the judge said. “But there is a limited amount of credit [Dombrow] should receive for that. That was his job.”
Dombrow probably deserves much more than eight months in prison, but at almost 78 years old, it is more than I would have expected in a case like this. He thought he could take advantage of gullible church leaders, and it worked… until he came across a more skeptical judge.