A priest accused of stealing as much as $60,000 from a Catholic church in Donaldsonville has been arrested, Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre said Thursday.
The Rev. Desmond Ohankwere, who worked at the Donaldsonville church for several years and had been serving as a pastor in the Houston area, was arrested Wednesday, the sheriff said.
An Ascension Parish grand jury indicted him on May 20 on felony theft of over $25,000, Webre said. The actual amount could be as much as $60,000, he said.
Ohankwere, a priest of the Missionary Society of St. Paul, had served the St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church in Donaldsonville before being reassigned in August 2018 to a church in the Houston area, Webre said.
Ohankwere had been pastor at St. Catherine from October 2014 to July 31, 2018, the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge said in a statement Thursday.
The Diocese said it and its insurance company had begun an investigation in February after learning of some questionable expenditures at St. Catherine and had notified the Sheriff's Office, which joined the investigation.
Webre said the initial investigation indicated Ohankwere was "using church funds to additionally pay himself and for personal expenses."
Webre said detectives uncovered enough evidence through bank records, subpoenas and interviews with church officials to go to the District Attorney's Office, which brought the case to a grand jury.
The Diocese said the total amount of the theft hasn't been determined yet because a forensic review of the church parish's books is ongoing.
"The diocese continues to cooperate with Ascension Parish authorities in the investigation," the Diocese said in its statement.
After the indictment, the Sheriff's Office obtained an arrest warrant for Ohankwere, who was taken to Harris County jail in Texas on Wednesday, Webre said.
The Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office is waiting to hear if Ohankwere will waive or fight extradition. If the priest waives extradition, he would be brought to the Ascension Parish jail possibly some time next week, Webre said.
An extradition hearing will be held in Texas on Friday, Webre said.
The Diocese said Ohankwere at the time of his arrest was pastor at St. Gregory the Great parish in Houston. He had been ordained for the Missionary Society of St. Paul in July 1991, the Diocese said.