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Non-profit raising money for Rev. Wehrle's defense in hot water

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) - A charity working to help a local priest accused of embezzling more than a million dollars from Saint Martha’s church in Okemos is now facing legal troubles of its own.

Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a cease and desist order against the nonprofit currently raising money to help the defense of Rev. Jonathan Wehrle.

The Michigan Attorney General's Office says the charity Opus Bono Sacerdotii is in violation of Michigan’s Nonprofit Corporation Act and Charitable Solicitations Act, accusing the organization of using charity dollars for personal expenses.

On June 11th, the president of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, Joe Maher, wrote a letter to Rev. Jonathan Wehrle's family and friends asking for donations to help pay Wehrle's legal fees as he faces embezzlement charges, after his former attorney withdrew from the case.

But now the group itself is facing legal trouble as well.

“The board members were not keeping an eye on the finances of the charity,” said Andrea Bitely, the communications director for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.

Bitely says the president and treasurer of the group used money raised for meals, auto expenses, and other personal needs.

“One of the things our Charitable Trust Team does is ask questions, and the responses we received back from Opus Bono's attorneys didn't really fit with what the answers should've been,” said Bitely.

The nonprofit’s troubles arise just days after more evidence was found against Wehrle on Tuesday.

“We were able to discover $63,392 dollars, which was hidden in the ceiling tiles of the basement,” said Michigan State Police Detective First Lieutenant Thomas DeClercq.

DeClercq says the money was banded in $2,000 stacks.

“These bands had stamps on them that said “For deposit only: St. Martha’s Parish and School,’” said DeClercq.

While Wehrle is out on bond, he hasn't had access to the church for over a year, so the money has likely been hidden for a long time.

As the case against Wehrle seems to mount, there's no telling how much Opus Bono Sacerdotii will actually have to contribute to his defense.

6 News did reach out to Opus Bono for comment earlier today but we didn't hear back.

The Attorney General's office is giving it a few weeks to resolve the issue or will move forward with a civil lawsuit.


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