Gambling Northboro Priest Resigns Amidst Embezzlement Probe
Friday, October 18, 2013
In a letter published on St. Bernadette’s website, Bishop Robert J. McManus of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester said Father Gemme had admitted to a gambling problem when confronted about the missing funds. He has been placed on medical leave and is being evaluated and treated at a residential addiction facility.
The casino effect
“This happens everywhere that convenience casinos are established,” said John Ribeiro, chairperson of Repeal the Casino Deal, a statewide organization fighting to include a casino repeal option on November 2014’s statewide ballot.
“The casino industry leverages some of the most sophisticated technology to understand and target people based on their financial status. The casinos this priest frequented likely knew that he was spending beyond his means,” he said. “There is no recourse for the parish to recover those funds from the casino. Any other business that had received stolen money would have to return it. The casinos enjoy a protected status above other businesses.”
The money trail
Discrepancies in funding were first noted in July, when a member of the St. Bernadette School Advisory Board noted unusual expenditures in one of the Parish accounts, wrote Bishop McManus in his letter. A review of parish and school finances found that $120,000 in parish funds and $110,000 in school funds “were used by Father Gemme for personal expenditures unrelated to the parish or school.”
“This is very distressing news that I share with you today. It is tragic. Even in light of this serious breach of trust, we must remember that Father Gemme has done much good for many of you and your families, as well as for your parish and school,” wrote Bishop McManus. “It will take time for us to find healing and I can only ask that you keep the parish and school community in prayer over the coming weeks and months, for with God’s help all things are possible. In Christian charity, I also ask that you pray for Father Gemme and for all who struggle with gambling addictions.”
Despite the Church’s understanding, the matter has been referred to the District Attorney because of the amount of funds allegedly stolen and is currently under investigation.
Until a new pastor is appointed, Father John Reidy, Vicar General of the Diocese, will administer the parish, and Father John Hamm will serve the daily needs of both the parish and school. Bishop McManus said that overall operations at the Church would continue unhindered despite the missing funds.
Related Slideshow: The Evolution of Worcester’s Slots Parlor Debate
State House Okays Casinos
In 2007 Governor Deval Patrick proposes bringing casino gambling to Massachusetts. The state is divided into three casino zones with one license to be awarded in each zone. Worcester falls into the state’s Western district, and is considered a prime location for a potential casino. Worcester voters endorse casino gambling in a nonbinding referendum.
Lines Are Redrawn
In November 2011, the Expanded Gaming Act passes Beacon Hill and is signed by the governor. The new law redraws casino zones and places Worcester in the highly competitive Eastern district and in direct competition with developer favorite Suffolk Downs. Then-State Rep. Vincent Pedone (D-Worcester) says he advocated for the districting change as a way to keep casinos out of Worcester.
Slots Parlor in MA?
With Worcester County now part of the competitive Eastern district, developers eye potential locations for slots parlor in Central Massachusetts. Casino proposals in and around Boston are considered a lock, so slot parlor proposals are the safer bet. Several developers throw their hats in the ring.
Rush Street Gaming
Last spring, Rush Street Gaming proposes a $240 million slots parlor in Worcester’s Canal District as well as a separate hotel in the immediate downtown. The Chicago-based company claims the development will bring 600 permanent jobs and several hundred construction jobs to the Worcester area. The Canal District Alliance supports the proposal as an economic boon for an area in need of investment.
Rush Street Gaming and the City of Worcester are unable to reach an agreement leading to a formal proposal. They withdraw the tentative proposal in June of 2013. It never goes to a referendum vote. Rush Street begins pursuing a potential slots parlor in neighboring Millbury, but that proposal is eventually withdrawn when it becomes clear that the majority of residents do not support the proposal.
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