MASON, Mich. — The attorney for a Michigan priest accused of bilking a Catholic church that’s missing millions of dollars asked a judge Friday to authorize the release of $800,000 seized by police to his client.

The Rev. Jonathan Wehrle (WUR’-lee) is charged with embezzling $100,000 or more from St. Martha Parish in Okemos, Michigan, but prosecutors say an ongoing audit shows an estimated $5 million is missing from the Lansing-area Roman Catholic church.

Wehrle’s attorney argued during a Friday court hearing that the priest and his mother should have access to nearly $800,000 seized by Michigan State Police as part of the ongoing investigation, the Lansing State Journal reported.

A judge who heard that request must decide whether there’s enough evidence to send Wehrle to trial. The hearing resumes Sept. 1 with testimony from Bishop Earl Boyea.

Wehrle, who founded St. Martha Parish in 1988, was placed on administrative leave by the Diocese of Lansing on May 9.

Prosecutors filed an application in June for a lien against an 11,000-square-foot home the priest owns that’s worth more than $1 million and sits on 10 acres. Wehrle’s lawyer, Lawrence Nolan, has said money from Wehrle’s family could have paid for it.

The lien application states that Wehrle had “sole access” to St. Martha Parish’s finances and offerings, “with no oversight within the parish” and lists 10 residences Wehrle owns or has owned since 1988 in several Michigan communities and in Florida.

Prosecutors have said that on May 11, one day after the embezzlement investigation became public, State Police learned that Wehrle had entered a Huntington Bank branch and tried to withdraw more than $700,000 from his accounts.


Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com