Two years’ imprisonment
A former Catholic priest has pleaded guilty to defrauding refugees and their families after he gambled away almost CAD1m (US$760m) in donations.
Amer Saka was sentenced to two years in prison on a single count of committing fraud of over CAD5,000 (US$3,817). Justice Allan Maclure recommended that the former priest serve this sentence at a minimum-security facility.
he gambled away almost CAD1m (US$760m) in donations
Saka’s attorney, Iryna Revutsky, thanked the judge for allowing the defendant to serve time at this facility, adding: “He [Justice Maclure] gave a very thoughtful judgment, he took into consideration the fact that my client was fundamentally and is fundamentally a very, very good man who made a mistake.”
The details of the fraud
Saka was serving as a priest at St Joseph’s Chaldean Catholic Church in London, Ontario, and the St Oraha Catholic Church in Kitchener at the time of the offense.
The priest gambled a total of CAD936,497 (US$715,000), which sum was meant to help Syrian and Iraqi refugees arriving in the country. The parishioners had donated these funds to sponsor family members of fellow parishioners who were trying to get into Canada.
sum was meant to help Syrian and Iraqi refugees arriving in the country
The fraud took place from 2013 until 2016. Throughout this period, the sponsorship applications that were accompanied by donations were either not completed or lost.
Spiraling addiction to gambling
Saka’s lawyer claimed that his client’s “pathological gambling addiction” stems from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The condition was not diagnosed after the priest’s brother and mother were murdered during the time he was living in Iraq.
In 2011, the priest voluntarily self-excluded from gambling at the casinos in Ontario. He later rescinded this self-exclusion and began gambling once more. Saka had a reputation for gambling large sums at casinos in Niagara Falls, Windsor, and Point Edward.
Following extensive losses, Saka confessed his crimes to his bishop, who reported him to the police in London, Ontario. The priest later attended a treatment program for PTSD and gambling addiction.
The aftermath of the trial
Saka has apologized for his actions in a letter to the court. He said he fears this issue could mean he will no longer be able to practice the priesthood.
In total, there were 36 families with 105 members that fell victim to the actions of the priest. Some never made it to Canada and their whereabouts are not known.
If Saka has not fully paid what he owes to the victims within the stipulated period, he will need to serve additional time in jail of between three and five years.