The former Catholic priest who pleaded guilty to defrauding refugees and their families of nearly $1 million has been sentenced.
In delivering the penalty — two years in jail for one count of fraud over $5,000 — Justice Allan Maclure recommended that Father Amer Saka serve his sentence in a minimum-security prison.
“He gave a very thoughtful judgment, he took into consideration the fact that my client was fundamentally and is fundamentally a very, very good man who made a mistake,” said Saka’s lawyer, Iryna Revutsky.
While serving as a priest at St. Joseph’s Chaldean Catholic Church in London and St. Oraha Catholic Church in Kitchener, Saka allegedly gambled away $936,497 that was intended to support Iraqi and Syrian refugees coming to Canada.
The money was given to him by parishioners as part of a sponsorship agreement so the church could sponsor parishioners’ family members wanting to enter the country.
The fraud was committed over a span of three years, between 2013 and 2016. During that time, sponsorship applications, for which funds had been given in trust, were lost or not completed.
Revutsky said Saka’s “pathological gambling addiction”’ is the result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that went undiagnosed after the murders of his mother and brother while he lived in Iraq.
“It’s been a very difficult three years for Father Saka and he has certainly made a lot of progress in dealing with his post-traumatic stress disorder,” Revutsky said.
In a letter written to the court, Saka talked about remorse for his actions and fear he might never practice as a priest again.
Thirty-three families, comprised of 105 family members, were victims of Saka’s actions.
Justice Maclure initially proposed 45 years to pay restitution to the families, given his uncertain job prospects and previous salary of only $20,000 year as a priest.
This would mean he would not have to appear before a court again until he was 106 to prove whether or not he had paid the money back.
Crown disputed the recommendation, arguing that it was not a reasonable amount of time, which persuaded Justice Maclure to lower the term of restitution to 15 years.
Once the term ends, if Saka has not paid back the full amount to his victims, he could face additional jail time of three to five years.