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Guest column/Facts have been blurred beyond recognition

It’s a saying popularized by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the mid-1980s – “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” The expression comes to mind when reading the letter from a Georgia man, Frank Krajovic, published in the Sept. 13 Herald-Star (“Monforton has to resign.”)

In 2017, Bishop Jeffrey Monforton discovered a sobering reality — the Diocese of Steubenville had been victimized by a decade-long embezzlement by former comptroller David Franklin. For his first step, the bishop immediately engaged an accounting firm to conduct a forensic accounting investigation. Next, the results were turned over to law enforcement on local, state and federal levels. And after that, the individual involved was, indeed, prosecuted by federal authorities and pleaded guilty.

The Herald-Star was among the news outlets that covered this story, in no small part assisted by the media briefings conducted by the diocese. There were regular updates in the diocesan newspaper as well as communications shared directly with parishioners.

These facts get blurred to the point of non-recognition in the letter writer’s version of things. His thesis, such as it is, is a series of speculations, mistaken assumptions and name-calling.

One may presume, it would appear, however, that the diocese may have been overly trusting of Franklin for a long time. There are now very strict protocols in place to deter this type of activity: New financial controls were implemented, including use of a third-party payroll processor; two signatures are now required for every check issued by the diocese; and independent audits are conducted every year. The bishop used the sound and practical advice given by the firm which conducted the forensic investigation.

Bonuses and payments were indeed secret, and Franklin did lie about the financial health of the diocese, including the proper taxation of the bonuses. Those facts were revealed in the court documents from the United States District Court Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division (United States of America v. David A. Franklin), on the date when Franklin entered his guilty plea (July 7) to the federal charges. The document, signed by Franklin, states, “From 2008 through and including 2017, at the same time that Mr. Franklin was failing to truthfully account for and pay over payroll taxes, he embezzled funds of the diocesan entities (Diocese of Steubenville and Mount Calvary Cemetery Association), he stole funds placed in his trust by the diocesan entities. By fraudulently appropriating to his own use money entrusted to his care by the diocesan entities, he knowingly participated in a devised scheme to defraud in order to obtain money or property. Mr. Franklin did so by preparing several checks to be issued to himself beyond normal salary. The total amount of embezzled funds was $299,500. Mr. Franklin deposited the fraudulently obtained checks from the diocesan entities to accounts in his control. The process of clearing the checks from the diocesan entities’ bank accounts to accounts in the control of Mr. Franklin caused wire communications in interstate and foreign commerce.”

In 2018, the bishop also ordered a forensic accounting review to verify the money collected for the Holy Name Cathedral Project was accurately accounted for and used properly. The review findings indicated no wrongdoing and confirmed funds were used specifically for the Cathedral renovations project. That money was used for infrastructure around the cathedral; the purchasing and tearing down buildings near the cathedral to be used for parking; a temporary roof; and partial gutting of the building.

Discussing how to best respond to this out-of-state criticism with a colleague, he shared a story about the late Cardinal Avery Dulles. A Jesuit friend, a bishop from Europe, was arriving in New York City. The prelate was asked by an aggressive reporter: “When you come to New York, do you go to a night club?” The bishop, trying to impress with a little satirical wit, replied: “Are there night clubs in New York?” The next morning, he read in one of the tabloids the headline, “Bishop’s First Question: Are There Night Clubs in New York?”

(Orsatti is the director of communications for the Diocese of Steubenville.)

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