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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

 

Former pastor charged with stealing $84,000 from church for botox

Former Staten Island pastor charged with stealing more than $84,000 from his church

by Staten Island Advance

Monday April 06, 2009, 3:01 PM

The Rev. William Blasingame of St. Paul's Memorial Episcopal Church in Staten Island's Stapleton section is in trouble with the law.

The former pastor of a prominent North Shore Episcopal church stands accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from his parish to pay for plastic surgery and Botox injections, as well as prescription drugs.

The Rev. William Blasingame, 66, who resigned in January as pastor of historic St. Paul's Memorial Episcopal Church, Stapleton, stole a total of $84,537 over the three years starting in January 2005, authorities contend.

 

He could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted at trial of the two felonies with which he is charged, second-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal possession of stolen property.

Father Blasingame manipulated the church's bank accounts to pocket money from two funds, authorities allege -- the Friends of St. Paul's foundation, which was established to fund the maintenance, upkeep and beautification of the church grounds, and a discretionary fund he oversaw that was meant to provide small stipends to parishioners in need.

The priest would never let anyone else access those two accounts, said Richard Mingoia, the church's senior warden and treasurer, and with good reason -- he allegedly was writing checks to himself from the upkeep account, and using the discretionary fund as a personal piggy bank.

Father Blasingame used the money to pay for club memberships, plastic surgery, Botox injections, car insurance for his personal vehicle and expensive clothes, a law enforcement source said yesterday.

Much of the money, which was separate from the salary he drew from the church, went for prescription drugs from an online pharmacy, Mingoia said.

RECTORY SQUALOR
And despite the obsession with his appearance, including a $245 pair of shoes imported from London, the priest led a squalid existence in the rectory, Mingoia said.

"We had to have five 40-yard Dumpsters to take out the debris. Animal feces, liquor bottles, you name it. I can't even describe the horror scene," he said.

Mingoia said he first realized something was amiss with the bookkeeping when he was updating the church's bank information online and stumbled across the upkeep account, which showed Father Blasingame had written checks to himself.

He appealed to the Episcopal Diocese of New York to have Father Blasingame reveal the contents of the two accounts, but the discretionary fund the priest allowed access to had been created only in March 2008 and contained but $200.

Father Blasingame resigned for medical reasons, effective Jan. 1, and went on a disability pension. Mingoia said the priest initially was treated at Richmond University Medical Center and then transferred to Summit Oaks Hospital in New Jersey, which specializes in the treatment of chemical abuse and mental illness.

When the church officers cleared out the rectory, they found documents with the account number of his original discretionary account, and found the records of his payments to plastic surgeons and details of other transactions.

After consulting with the diocese, Mingoia gave the books to Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan's office.

A forensic investigation into the church's accounting followed, and Father Blasingame surrendered to the district attorney's NYPD detective squad on Friday morning, according to Donovan spokesman William J. Smith.

Father Blasingame was arraigned in Stapleton Criminal Court Friday, and is slated to return May 12.

Although the priest's car was parked outside the house on the 200 block of Vanderbilt Avenue where authorities say he has been staying of late, he did not answer the door and did not return phone calls seeking comment.

VENDETTA ALLEGED
Father Blasingame's lawyer, James Hasson, called the allegations against him a "bad mistake," and suggested Mingoia has it in for his former pastor.

"I think this Mingoia made a big mistake in accusing him of stealing money," Hasson said. "It's crazy. There's some kind of a vendetta out there, and there's more than meets the eye."

Hasson pointed to Father Blasingame's 31 years as the church's pastor, and said he "lives a very simple life and drives a heap of the car."

The back seat of his car -- a beat-up 1987 Volvo 760 Turbo with a sticker for the Palm Beach Yacht Club on one window and a Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker on the back -- was littered with books and papers.

A large, faded poster for the church covered much of the back seat, surrounded by books, including a hardcover Bible and several paperback mysteries by Lillian Jackson Braun.

Mingoia flatly rejected Hasson's claim of a vendetta, saying the church at this point is interested in restitution.

"There's no vendetta, believe me. Everybody in the church was heartbroken," he said.

Father Blasingame has been a notable presence in Staten Island social circles and was a member of the music committee at Manhattan's National Arts Club.

For 15 years, excluding last year, he hosted the church's signature fundraiser, "Victorian Christmas Festival of Lessons and Carols."

Two weeks before his arrest, Father Blasingame took out a quarter-page ad in the Advance offering a "very large" reward for the return of his dog, Andrew.

The dog was "illegally surrendered" to the Staten Island Center for Animal Care and Control, then adopted, while he was hospitalized, he said. "The reward is very large. Surely the adopter has a heart," the ad read.

Mingoia said Andrew was discovered in the rectory, flea-ridden and undernourished. A neighbor brought the dog to a veterinarian and later had it put up for adoption, he said.

The ad did not include the priest's name, and Father Blasingame was reluctant to talk publicly about the dog when contacted by a reporter last month.

"I don't want any personal publicity," he said. "I have reasons for that."

-- Contributed by John Annese


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