COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine claims in court that a former Catholic cleric set up and used a charitable foundation for his own personal gain, spending donation money on a Lexus, food, clothes and bills.
In a complaint filed Wednesday in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, DeWine also alleges that John Sillup, a cleric formerly incardinated in Frejus-Toulon, France, also fraudulently used the name and identity of a New Jersey priest to legitimize the Society of Notre Dame charity.
The society’s website describes itself as a nonprofit charity and fraternal organization. On behalf of Sillup and the society, board member Cynthia Sauer said in an email that they “have been in contact with the Ohio attorney general, and every financial record has been submitted for full review over eight months ago.”
Attorney General DeWine claims, however, that Sillup refused to return to the Frejus-Toulon Diocese in 2009 to respond to an investigation based on complaints against him, and instead settled in Steubenville, Ohio.
His goal was to establish “a Catholic religious community and/or house of formation,” the complaint states, and he began his soliciting donations for the Society of Notre Dame at that time, acquiring properties in and around Steubenville for the charity.
One of those properties was converted into a chapel, but the Steubenville Diocese informed Sillup that “any permissions to having the house of formation and a chapel with the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament had been revoked due to complaints that have been brought against [him],” DeWine claims.
Sillup was suspended by the Frejus-Toulon Diocese in 2010, and the Holy See withdrew his clerical status, the lawsuit says.
The comment from the society disputes this. “Mr. Sillup is an active clergy member part of a Christian Organization,” board member Sauer said in an email.
“Further, the organization has been collaborating with the Charity Center for Refugees in Moldova,” Sauer added, providing a recent letter from that organization, which is affiliated with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
According to the complaint, after registering the charity in Ohio, Sillup left for Arizona and California.
Last year, the charity sold its Steubenville properties and “the proceeds were not used to further the Society of ND’s charitable mission, but instead were used to pay John Sillup’s personal expenses,” the complaint states.
In an attempt to legitimize the Society of Notre Dame, DeWine claims Sillup fraudulently used the name of Rev. Peter Glabik, a priest he met in seminary school in 2005.
Sillup allegedly forged Glabik’s signature as a board member of the Society of Notre Dame, authorizing Sillup to execute documents during the sale of the Steubenville properties.
DeWine says Glabik is not a board member of the Society of Notre Dame, although he is identified as such on its website.
Sillup allegedly claimed Glabik was the charity’s vice president in filings with the state, and produced documents requested by the Attorney General’s Office with Glabik’s forged signatures.
The state contends that throughout this year, Sillup has been promoting and soliciting donations for various benefits for the Society of Notre Dame that did not actually take place.
According to the lawsuit, the Big SND Film Festival was to take place on Oct. 22-24 in Los Angeles after Sillup solicited sponsors for the event and sold tickets online, but the film festival was later rebranded as a gala that never took place.
The complaint claims that Sillup has been soliciting donations for events through Twitter, but the tweets have been deleted.
Sillup used the charity’s assets “to pay for personal living expenses, including but not limited to [his] personal credit cards, a Lexus automobile, groceries and restaurants, entertainment expenses, clothing and home good purchases, and student loans,” according to the complaint.
The Society’s website falsely claims to have many active, ongoing charitable programs throughout the world, and “116 members worldwide who have participated in our 15 month cycle of spiritual reflections on charity,” DeWine’s lawsuit states.
DeWine seeks reformation of a charitable trust, injunctive relief, equitable relief, penalties and damages for alleged violations of the Ohio Charitable Trust Act and the Ohio Charitable Organizations Act.