A retired Catholic priest and a church secretary have been charged with embezzling over $100,000 from a Catholic parish in Owosso, Michigan. Rev. David Fisher, 70, a former pastor of St. Joseph Parish was arrested without incident in front of his home in Grand Forks, North Dakota, on March 11. Former secretary Nancy DeFrenn,55, was arraigned on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, in Shiawassee County Court. She is currently out on bond.
Parishioners in the small central Michigan town are stunned. Fisher had been pastor at St. Joseph’s for more than 20 years and was well-regarded.
According to the Michigan State Police, DeFrenn and Fisher embezzled thousands of dollars for approximately six years. According to agency spokesman Detective Mark Pendergraff, "We've conducted a thorough investigation and documented that there was in fact money spent inappropriately by the priest and also by the secretary."
An inquiry began in June 2015 following Fisher’s retirement. An internal audit conducted by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lansing revealed anomalies."Following the retirement of Rev. David Fisher from the pastorate of St. Joseph Parish in Owosso, financial irregularities came to light," declared a release from the Diocese of Lansing. "These were promptly reported by the Diocese of Lansing to representatives of law enforcement, who began an investigation. At every point of the process, the diocese, the new pastor of St. Joseph Parish, and his parish staff have fully cooperated with law enforcement."
The retired priest faced an initial hearing on March 14 in Grand Forks. Fisher is anticipating an extradition hearing on March 31 so as to be brought to Michigan where he would stand trial. If convicted, Fisher could see 20 years in prison. His alleged accomplice, DeFrenn, may see as many as 10 years behind bars.
Fisher is charged with seven counts of embezzlement. They include: one count of embezzlement of $100,000 or more; one count of embezzlement as an agent or trustee of an amount between $20,000 and $50,000; one count of embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000 as an agent or trustee; two counts of embezzlement between $50,000 and $100,000; and two counts of embezzlement of between $50,000 and $100,000.
Michigan State Police allege that Fisher spent money intended for the purposes of the Church for personal use. The agency believes that he did so from at least 2009, but it is possible the embezzlement began before that time. He served as pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Owosso from 1992 to 2015.
DeFrenn of Owosso is being charged in connection with the case. Currently out on bond, DeFrenn has been arraigned on one count of embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000 from a nonprofit organization or charity. She was the parish secretary while Fisher was pastor. Fisher officiated the wedding Mass for DeFrenn and her husband.
Michigan State Police allege that DeFrenn wrote checks from the church’s account to pay for personal items. Both she and Fisher also also alleged to have taken money from the St. Vincent DePaul Foundation, a charitable organization that gives aid to needy families. Besides 10 years in prison, DeFrenn may have to pay a $15,000 fine and/or three times the amount embezzled – whichever is greater.