Man pleads guilty to bilking Mass. Catholic school

AP News
Posted: Jun 27, 2011 4:00 PM
Man pleads guilty to bilking Mass. Catholic school

A professional fundraiser charged with bilking a private school run by Roman Catholic nuns out of more than $360,000 pleaded guilty Monday and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Michael Hlady admitted stealing the money from Venerini Academy and misleading the school into believing that a well-known philanthropist was preparing to make a multimillion-dollar donation.

Investigators said the 37-year-old Greenville, R.I., resident used the money on travel, gambling, adult entertainment and other personal expenses.

Superior Court Judge James Lemire sentenced Hlady, who was arrested on March 2010, to two years in state prison and ordered him to make full restitution to the school. He was also ordered to undergo counseling for gambling addiction.

Prosecutors said school officials hired Hlady in August 2008 to help them raise money for a planned $3 million expansion.

In late 2008, Hlady told the school he had contacted a Worcester-area philanthropist who contributed regularly to educational organizations and wanted to contribute $3 million to $14 million to the school, according to investigators.

Between September 2008 and February 2010, school officials spoke on the phone with an individual they believed to be the prospective donor, who they knew only as "Arthur." The donor praised Hlady and said the school should pay Hlady for his services.

Investigator say Hlady played the role of Arthur, who did not exist.

They also said an examination of Hlady's computer showed that documents he provided to the school were created by him.

Based on his assurances, the school hired a contractor and began work on the expansion.

On three occasions in 2009, investigators said, Hlady arranged for school officials to travel to Florida to meet with the prospective donor, but once they arrived, Hlady told them the donor wasn't available.

In September 2009 after completing nearly $3 million in construction and demolition work, the construction company suspended work because the school was unable to pay their bills.

Attorney General Martha Coakley said Hlady preyed on the trusting nature of the Venerini Sisters to defraud the school. The order was founded by Rosa Venerini, an Italian nun who died in 1728 and was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI. It has chapters around the globe.