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Priest arrested, accused of stealing nearly $80K in church money

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DONALDSONVILLE - An Ascension Parish priest accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars is back in Louisiana after being caught outside the state.

The sheriff's office confirmed Tuesday that Father Desmond Ohankwere turned himself in to Ascension Parish authorities. Ohankwere was captured in Texas last month, but, for reasons unclear, he was allowed to bond out of jail while awaiting an extradition hearing. He is now being held in the Ascension Parish Jail on a $50,000 bond.

The sheriff's office said it first began investigating allegations that Ohankwere used church funds to pay his own personal accounts back in February.

Sheriff Bobby Webre told WBRZ that Ohankwere allegedly stole about $80,000 during his time as priest at St. Catherine of Sienna in Donaldsonville. Ohankwere, a minister from the Missionary Society of St. Paul, was with the church for four years.

"Father Desmond was using this money to pay for personal living expenses, travel expenses adjust to to better his lifestyle," Webre said.

A warrant was issued for Ohankwere's arrest May 21, and he was arrested later that month by Harris County sheriff's deputies in Houston, Texas. 

The Baton Rouge Diocese released the following statement immediately after his arrest.

Fr. Ohankwere was pastor in the parish from October, 2014, to July 31, 2018.

The diocese was made aware of some questionable expenditures at the parish and, along with its insurance company, began an investigation in February of this year. The insurance company was notified because losses from theft are covered by the diocese’s policy.

Ascension Parish civil authorities were also notified and joined the investigation. Fr. Ohankwere was indicted this month by an Ascension Parish Grand Jury and was arrested Wednesday in Texas.

The total amount of questionable expenditures has not yet been determined because a forensic review of the parish’s books is ongoing. The diocese continues to cooperate with Ascension parish authorities in the investigation.

Fr. Ohankwere is a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul.  At the time of his arrest he was pastor at St. Gregory the Great parish in Houston. He was ordained for his missionary society on July 1, 1991.

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