Priest with gambling habit sentenced to 3 years for $650,000 theft from his Las Vegas parish
LAS VEGAS — Muffled sobs erupted Friday in a courtroom packed with supporters of a Roman Catholic priest who was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison and ordered to repay $650,000 he acknowledged embezzling from his northwest Las Vegas parish to support his gambling habit.
Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe, 59, stood straight and offered no reaction as U.S. District Judge James Mahan credited him for accepting responsibility for looting parish votive candle, prayer and gift shop funds for eight years, but faulted him for “hedging his bet” by blaming it on a gambling addiction.
“You abused a position of trust, Mr. McAuliffe,” the judge said. He dispensed with any church title for the priest who hid a weakness for casinos and video poker from parishioners who know him as Father Kevin. “You betrayed people who depended on you.”
McAuliffe offered a remorseful apology, saying he felt “guilt, shame and self-loathing,” and noting that he had “rightly” lost his positions of authority in the church. He asked the judge for leniency so he could make restitution, help others with gambling addictions “and atone for what I have done.”
Defense attorney Margaret Stanish asked the judge for probation so McAuliffe could continue getting counseling for his gambling addiction, keep practicing as a priest and pay restitution to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Summerlin. He won’t get treatment in federal prison, Stanish said.
“Is it all about retribution?” she asked the judge. “This court has the ability to fashion a punishment that takes into account not only the offense but the individual. He would not be here but for a gambling addiction.”
Stanish brought in Dr. Timothy Fong, a psychiatry professor and chief of the gambling studies program at the University of California, Los Angeles, to testify that McAuliffe’s gambling compulsion amounted to “self-medication” by a man masking feelings of stress, depression, sadness, social anxiety and inadequacy.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Brown characterized McAuliffe as an opportunist and thief who didn’t exhaust his own savings before taking church cash to fund gambling, cars and travel. She accused him of grasping at gambling addiction as “a hollow excuse offered now, when he’s desperate for leniency from the court.”