Friday, June 15, 2007


A federal judge ordered the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland to turn over reams of financial records, including information on payments to former Bishop Anthony Pilla and on an account he controlled.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aldrich's ruling this week comes at the request of lawyers for Joseph Smith and Anton Zgoznik, two former diocesan employees accused of stealing $784,000 from the church.

Aldrich ruled the documents, expected to be thousands of pages, can be used only by lawyers associated with the case. But much of the information will likely be aired during a the trial, scheduled to begin in August, in which Pilla is expected to testify.

"This is unprecedented," said Robert Rotatori, Zgoznik's lawyer. "The diocese has never allowed the parishoners to have insight into its finances. This is the first time we will have access to the financial records."

Smith and Zgoznik maintain the money they are accused of stealing was actually additional pay authorized by Pilla and the Rev. John Wright, the church's former financial and legal secretary. Smith and Zgoznik claim the diocese had hundreds of off-the-book accounts that church leaders used to make secret payments to a scores of people.

"These documents will demonstrate that my client was only doing what he was instructed to do and that the officials in the diocese, up to the bishop, knew what was going on," Rotatori said.

The diocese vehemently opposed the request, calling it a "fishing expedition" designed to smear the reputations of Pilla and Wright and cloud the case against Smith and Zgoznik.

Aldrich granted the motion this week.

"The court disagrees, and finds that under the defense theory advanced by Smith, the documents sought are all sufficiently relevant and potentially exculpatory, warranting their production," Aldrich wrote.

Robert Tayek, a spokesman for the diocese, said: "The Diocese has just received the ruling; we are studying it and are considering our options."

The article goes on to outline the various records that the Diocese would like to keep secret. It appears that something like $1,722,000 in diocesan funds may possibly have been misappropriated. Read the rest of the article...

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