DONALDSONVILLE, La. (WAFB) - A former pastor at St. Catherine of Sienna Parish in Donaldsonville has been arrested for allegedly spending tens of thousands of dollars of the church’s money on personal expenses.
The Diocese of Baton Rouge says Father Desmond Ohankwere was a pastor in the parish from October of 2014 to July 31, 2018. The diocese says it was made aware of some “questionable expenditures” at the parish, and along with its insurance company, began an investigation in February of 2019. The insurance company was notified since losses due to theft are covered by the diocese’s policy.
Authorities in Ascension Parish were also notified, the diocese says. Ohankwere was arrested Wednesday, May 29 in Texas.
“We knew he was taking money out of more than one account. He was using that to pay off personal expenses,” said Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre. “A lot of that was travel expenses, a lot of it was purchases that he would purchase online and he would make those purchases with a personal credit card, but using church funds to pay those bills.”
He was reportedly removed from the Diocese of Baton Rouge in 2018 and was transferred to Houston. He was not part of the Baton Rouge Diocese, but rather was contracted with the Missionary Society of St. Paul to minister at the church.
It’s believed Ohankwere misused at least $60,000 of the church’s money.
“Through our investigation, it was revealed to us that Father Desmond not only misappropriated funds, but he will be charged with felony theft of over $25,000,” said Sheriff Webre. “In fact, we believe this will rise to eighty, ninety thousand dollars.”
A warrant for Ohankwere’s arrest was issued May 21, and he was arrested by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Houston May 29. After an extradition hearing, Ohankwere was booked into the Ascension Parish Jail Tuesday, June 11. Ohankwere is awaiting arraignment. His bond was set at $50,000.
A forensic review of the parish’s records is ongoing. Ohankwere is a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul, and at the time of his arrest was a pastor at St. Gregory the Great parish in Houston. He was ordained for his missionary society July 1, 1991.