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Kemo enters plea, gets sentenced

SIGNED — Former Diocese of Steubenville Vicar General Kurt Kemo, right, signs his guilty plea Wednesday in Jefferson Common Pleas Court while his attorney, Chris Amato of Wellsville, looks on. Kemo, 64, admitted diverting nearly $300,000 in diocesan funds for his own use. He made full restitution to the diocese during the proceedings. -- Michael D. McElwain

STEUBENVILLE — Monsignor Kurt Kemo, vicar general of the Diocese of Steubenville for well over a decade, bought expensive clothes, took flying lessons and booked hotel stays on his credit card.

On Wednesday, Kemo admitted in Jefferson Common Pleas Court he’d diverted nearly $300,000 in funds intended for various projects in the diocese, including charitable endeavors, to subsidize his extravagant lifestyle.

Kemo, 64, pleaded guilty in Jefferson Common Pleas Court to a Bill of Information charging him with two counts of aggravated theft without consent, two counts of theft by deception, receiving stolen property and falsifying financial records. By accepting the information, Kemo essentially waived indictment and proceeded directly to sentencing.

Judge Michelle Miller sentenced him to six months in Eastern Ohio Correction Center on each of the aggravated theft charges, with the jail time to be served concurrently, plus two years of community control on each count.

As part of his plea deal, Kemo has already reimbursed the diocese for the $289,000 he’d diverted to his own uses, and agreed to assist prosecutors in identifying others who may have defrauded the diocese and, if necessary, testify against them.

Before sentencing Kemo, his hands folded in front of him, told Miller he was “very, very sorry.”

“(By) making restitution today, I hope that God will forgive me,” he said.

Miller said she appreciated Kemo’s apology, but pointed out, “What God does is between you and God, and you don’t need my forgiveness. This is a court of law: Anybody — each of us us here in this courtroom today — is just one bad decision from finding themselves in a position similar to where you find yourself.

“You’ve taken responsibility, you are returning and (making) restitution — it does not diminish the breach of duty that you had to your parishioners, the parishioners who make arrangements beyond their death, to donate to the Society for Propagation of Faith, and the parishioners who obviously are disappointed (now). And it probably shakes their faith when they see these things happening, but you don’t need a sermon from me.”

Assistant Jefferson County Prosecutor Frank Bruzzese said Kemo and former comptroller David Franklin “had control and authority to manage the affairs of the diocese,” including bank accounts, bills paid from those accounts and payroll.

Franklin, the 69-year-old former comptroller of the diocese, pleaded guilty in February to paying himself and a select group of employees, including Kemo, unauthorized bonuses, as well as working with Kemo to falsify records to conceal the true financial condition of the diocese. He was sentenced to 18 months in state prison, but the first year will be spent in federal custody for failure to account for and pay employment tax, one count of wire fraud and one count of filing a false income tax return.

Bruzzese said the pair misused diocesan funds that had been entrusted to them, including a chunk of money bequeathed to the Society for Propagation of Faith, to pay those fraudulent bonuses and their credit card bills.

He said Kemo, in his capacity as vicar general, assured Bishop Jeffrey Monforton and other higher-ups that the Diocese of Steubenville had assets it did not have, “(while) money was being diverted into a ‘slush fund’ that Franklin used to pay unauthorized bills and to pay credit cards (Kemo) used to pay for his personal expenses.”

That so-called slush fund was an account at Chase Bank that diocesan officials believed had been closed in 2010 when diocesan operating funds were moved to PNC, Bruzzese said.

Bruzzese said Franklin “had a significant amount of influence over Monsignor Kemo,” who he said had been in ill health for some time, and said he “may have taken advantage of that and influenced his conduct.”

He also was critical of the diocese, which he said was lax in its oversight of its finances and put too much faith in Kemo and Franklin “to protect its assets and manage diocese affairs.”

Kemo’s attorney, Chris Amato, also pointed out his client struggled with alcoholism for more than two decades, though he hasn’t had a drink in nine months.

Miller told Kemo she considered the “significant alcohol issues that you have struggled with, and based upon our pre-trial discussions, have tried to address numerous times over the years,” adding the court is well aware of “how difficult it is for someone to overcome addiction.”

She also said Bruzzese’s criticism of the diocese resonated with her.

“I can’t help but think and reflect on the statements that were made by the state of Ohio, that the victim in this case, specifically the diocese, did in fact have some role in facilitating this offense, right up the chain,” she said. “I don’t want to say you’re a scapegoat because you did have duties to make sure that those monies were used for what they were intended. However, all of those factors considered is why this court went along with the agreement.”

In his victim impact statement, Monforton told Kemo “Many people, locally and diocesan-wide, have had their trust in the church compromised.”

Monforton said, “To put it bluntly, people lost their jobs,” because of the actions.

Afterward, he said the proceedings “serve as a reminder that none of us is above the law” and said safeguards have been put in place to ensure it never happens again.

Monforton said the diocese will continue to cooperate with prosecutors as they continue their investigation.

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