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West Tampa church hopes to recover most of missing $165,000

TAMPA — St. Joseph Catholic Church, struggling to cope with the suicide of its pastor amid allegations he gambled away $165,000 in church finances, has a new leader and a chance of getting most of its money back.

The Rev. Carlos Rojas, from the Diocese of St. Petersburg's missionary in Wimauma, will replace Father Vladimir Dziadek, who hanged himself last week, said diocese spokesman Frank Murphy.

"It's tragic, but we're lucky to have Carlos' help," he said.

To recover from the financial landslide, the diocese plans to file an insurance claim and believes it can recover about 80 percent of the missing $165,000.

Around 8 a.m. May 12, a maintenance man found the Rev. Dziadek, 57, lying at the bottom of a staircase inside the church's administrative offices at 3012 W Cherry St. in West Tampa.

A Tampa police investigation into the death, released Tuesday, showed that the priest had used two belts tied together to hang himself from a bannister. Authorities reported they found four overdraft notices from a bank dating to December. No suicide note was located.

Diocese officials first suspected something was amiss with church finances when the Rev. Dziadek fell two months behind on his bill payments, Murphy said.

The Rev. Dziadek was removed from his administrative duties but allowed to continue delivering Mass, the police report shows.

He was to be replaced as parish priest later in the day of his suicide. Officials tried to get him to stay with another local priest from his native Poland, but he refused.

Friends who saw him last said the Rev. Dziadek seemed stressed and anxious, that his eyes looked "glassy" and "pale." One acquaintance was so worried she left her phone number and told the Rev. Dziadek to call if he needed anything.

He never did.

Investigators found that about $200,000 had been siphoned off over 18 months. Of that, only about $35,000 had been returned, Murphy said.

"The church itself is not a particularly wealthy parish," he said.

The Rev. Dziadek first arrived at St. Joseph Catholic about two years ago. He had suffered from depression before, but he was driven, Murphy said. "Once he decided to do something, he really went after it."

At the time, landscaping was sparse. The walls were bare. The Rev. Dziadek wanted to adorn the church — he had stained glass murals outfitted for the congregation.

"He understood that having a beautiful church was important to the community," Murphy said.

In the meantime, Murphy said, Bishop Robert Lynch is finishing an investigation that will be posted on the diocese's website this morning.

"We're going to try to provide a complete explanation with the numbers and have everybody understand what happened," Murphy said.

Zack Peterson can be reached at zpeterson@tampabay.com or (813)-226-3446. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

West Tampa church hopes to recover most of missing $165,000 05/20/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 7:51am]
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