Fake priest robs New York church of $900 in multistate impersonator scam — By: Catholic News Agency

The priest impersonator enters American Martyrs Church in Queens, New York, on March 3, 2024. / Credit: Diocese of Brooklyn

CNA Staff, Mar 7, 2024 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

A scam artist who impersonated a priest across multiple U.S. states recently targeted a Catholic church in New York City, managing to steal nearly $1,000, according to police.

NYPD Crime Stoppers said in a post on X on Wednesday that it was offering a $3,500 reward for tips leading to the arrest of a man who impersonated a priest to gain access to a Queens church. 

On Sunday, March 3, a priest at American Martyrs Church “was approached by an unknown individual who impersonated a priest to obtain access into [the parish],” the post said, adding that, “while inside, the individual removed $900 in cash from the victim’s unlocked bedroom.” 

Local media reported that Father Peter Rayder, the pastor of the church, said the fake priest “must have done his research because he knew their names, used vocabulary a priest would, and knew where to go.”

“He’s a vulture, he’s a vulture, gypsy, he knows what he’s doing,” Rayder told network WABC.

Diocese of Brooklyn spokesman John Quaglione told CNA on Thursday morning that the scammer “made another attempt in the Diocese of Brooklyn in October at St. Thomas Aquinas in Flatlands.”

“At that time, he also said that he was a visiting priest who left his keys in the rectory,” Quaglione said. “The sacristan called the pastor who informed him that he had no visitors, so they told him to wait, but the guy left.”

The individual impersonating a priest after being let it to St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Brooklyn. Credit: Diocese of Brooklyn

The crook also reportedly targeted the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville’s motherhouse on Long Island earlier in March, where he also claimed to be a priest.

“He said he wanted to go into the chapel and pray while he was waiting for his friend,” Quaglione said. “Once he got past reception he did go to one of the units in the building and knocked on a sister’s door who, not recognizing him, immediately slammed the door.”

The man left the mother house shortly thereafter without taking anything. The nuns, Quaglione said, identified the scammer from the Queens church as the same man.

Surveillance footage appears to show the impersonator at the Sisters of St. Dominic in Amityville, New York. Credit: Diocese of Brooklyn

“Photos of this man were shown to all pastors in the Diocese of Brooklyn and an alert is going out to all clergy regarding this incident,” Quaglione said. 

Quaglione said on Thursday morning that “there have been no arrests and no leads that we are aware of at this time.”

The Diocese of Rockville Centre, in which the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville’s motherhouse is located, did not respond to a request for comment on the incident on Thursday.

This is apparently not the first time the scammer has successfully impersonated a priest to rob a Catholic church. 

Last October a man calling himself “Father Martin” attempted to infiltrate several Texas parishes and reportedly succeeded in stealing several hundred dollars from one Houston parish.

Security footage of the Texas scammer showed a man identical in appearance to the impersonator who showed up in New York this month. 

The man in Texas also reportedly attempted to perpetrate the scam in several Dallas parishes and may have been active in California and Oregon as well. The Diocese of Dallas said last year that the scammer “has active warrants issued for his arrest for theft and burglary offenses he has committed across several states.”

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