A Wexford priest who died over two years ago has been publicly named as an accused in a fraud investigation by Florida police into the alleged misappropriation of Catholic parish funds.
The late Fr Richard (Dick) Murphy, formerly of St. Joseph’s, Waterloo Road in Wexford town who served as a priest in Florida and Deborah True, a former parish administrator, are accused of fraudulently depositing nearly $1.5 million into a bank account over a five-year period.
Fr Murphy was the former Pastor of Holy Cross Church in Vero Beach, Florida and True was his long-time secretary who later became his caregiver. Fr Murphy, who was ordained at St Peter’s College Wexford in 1965 was pastor in Holy Cross for almost 23 years and died in March 2020.
In a report published in Irish Central, the Vero Beach Police Department confirmed earlier this week that it was contacted by the Diocese of Palm Beach in December 2021 regarding a fraudulent bank account and possible misappropriation of funds that allegedly took place The police department said it recently concluded a nine-month fraud investigation which resulted in the arrest of Deborah True, former parish secretary at Holy Cross Church.
According to the Irish Central report, Vero Beach Police said their investigation revealed that in 2012, True and Fr Murphy opened a bank account in the name of Holy Cross Church which was hidden from the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach.
Police said bank records showed that nearly $1.5 million of parishioners’ donations were fraudulently deposited into the account since 2015.
True allegedly used over $500,000 of those funds to pay off personal lines of credit from 2015 until 2020, according to police, and an additional $147,000 was withdrawn from the account and deposited into True’s personal checking account.
According to police, the investigation revealed that Fr Murphy also personally benefited from the funds in the account.
Fr Murphy passed away in 2020 and no criminal investigation was opened against him.
On September 19, True turned herself in at the Indian River County Jail in Florida on one count of organised fraud involving over $50,000. She was placed on bond and is awaiting trial.
Fr Murphy studied for the priesthood in St Peter’s Seminary and was ordained in 1965, the same year that he left for America. Over the years, he served in various parishes in south Florida, starting as Parochial Vicar at St. Elizabeth in Pompano Beach; ministering in Sacred Heart, Lake Worth as well as St Brendan and Saints Peter and Paul in Miami. He became a Pastor at Ascension, Boca Raton before moving to St Joseph, Stuart and Holy Cross in Vero Beach.
He also served at diocesan level as the Bishop’s delegate in the Building and Real Estate Development department and was president of Catholic Charities’ affordable housing for seniors.
He often returned to his native Wexford to visit family and old friends with whom he kept in close contact. In 2015, he celebrated the golden jubilee of his ordination at a function in the Talbot Hotel in Wexford, which was attended by over 90 family members and friends.
A keen Wexford GAA fan, he watched matches on TV in Florida. He like to keep in contact with events in his home town and received a copy of the Wexford People every week.
Following Fr Murphy’s death in March 2020 at the age of 80, Deborah True told Vero News that he was a “fantastic leader” who cared about his parishioners and they cared about him.
"He believed we needed to reach out to people in the community whenever there was a need. He really cared about Vero Beach. He was a private person who didn’t like accolades or awards. He did stuff from the heart.”