October 26, 2007
A retired Roman Catholic priest who prosecutors said stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from two rural Virginia parishes pleaded guilty Friday to federal mail fraud and money laundering charges.
51-year-old Rodney Rodis entered his plea in U.S. District Court. Sentencing is scheduled for February 21st. He faces up to 40 years in prison.
Rodis embezzled money from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
in Bumpass and St. Jude Church in Mineral from 2002 until last year. He allegedly wired at least $515,231 of the money to his native Philippines.
Rodis leaned on a cane and showed no emotion before, during or after the hearing. Afterward, he was remanded to the Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw.
Bill Hynes and other parishioners watched in silence.
"I wanted to hear Rodney Rodis admit his guilt," said Hynes, who attends St. Jude. "And I wanted to see justice done."
The former priest had previously pleaded not guilty and was scheduled for a bench trial earlier this month. Rodis' public defender, Rob Wagner, declined to comment on why Rodis changed his plea. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office said a guilty plea sometimes reduces the severity of sentence.
Williams urged Rodis to work with attorneys as they continue investigating.
"Let me encourage you to cooperate with the United States," he said. "This might be a light at the end of the tunnel."
According to court records, Rodis used the funds largely for his family, which included a spouse and three biological children. Rodis had concealed his family by living about 50 miles from the churches.
Authorities say Rodis established bank accounts and a post office box, where he directed parishioners to mail contributions.
Later, he transferred the checks to his personal account, authorities said.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond has said Rodis embezzled more than $600,000 from the central Virginia churches, where he was
pastor from 1993 until he retired in May 2006 because of health problems. A plea agreement filed Friday said the diocese lost at least $400,000; Rodis has agreed to pay at least that much to the diocese.
Rodis originally was charged in state court with 13 embezzlement counts. The Louisa County prosecutor dropped those charges after Rodis was indicted in August by a federal grand jury.
After being charged in state court, Rodis was released on $25,000 bond. That bond was revoked in May after Rodis violated his conditions of release by flying to Detroit to visit a sick child who had been living with him.
Diocese lawyer William Etherington told us the important thing now is for those churches to get what is rightfully theirs.
"Through this process as much as possible will be recovered for the parishes. That's the object here, we want to recover the money that was wrongfully taken."
St. Jude parishioner Hynes weighed in after the brief court session, saying he still hasn't forgiven Rodis.
"I felt from the beginning if he was really sorry for what he did, that he would've come out and admitted his guilt. He's done that now, but it's been a long process and I'm disappointed that it took so long to get to this to this point."