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Thursday 17 October 2019

Coin dealer 'preyed' on 'millions-con' Irish priest

Jason O'Brien

Jason O'Brien

ONE of the two Irish priests accused of conning a church in Florida out of $8.6m (€6.5) may have himself been conned by a coin dealer who preyed on elderly investors.

Fr John Skehan, originally from Johnstown, Co Kilkenny, paid at least $300,000 between 2001 and 2003 to a dealer based in Texas, according to court documents relating to his grand theft charge.

Now the coin dealer - First Fidelity Reserve - is facing a separate lawsuit claiming it used high-pressure tactics to push elderly customers into making bad investments. The 79-year-old priest is among possible victims.

In a deposition, Colleen Head, an employee at the Catholic Church in Delray Beach in Florida, told investigators that Fr Skehan had once inadvertently charged a large sum to his American Express card for coins from a Texas dealer.

The audit identified that dealer as First Fidelity.

"He asked me to help him out with it, and when I helped him out with it I found out that he had spent $275,000 on coins," she told investigators last August. I helped send back some coins because he said it was over his budget."

In a safe in Fr Skehan's house on church grounds, investigators found receipts for purchases from First Fidelity Reserve among dozens of rare coins when they searched the premises last September.

"He had this lady that was always trying to sell him coins, and he's been dealing with her I guess for a while," Ms Head said.

That saleswoman has been identified as Stacey Hernandez, who has since quit her job and given a deposition for use in the civil suit against the coin sellers. The coin sellers deny the allegations.

Fr Skehan is not a plaintiff in the Texas suit.

Along with Fr Francis Guinan (64), originally from outside Birr, Offaly, he is accused of misappropriating millions from the church where they had both ministered. Both are free on bail of $40,000.

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