Former Tulare priest facing embezzlement charges

Watch the video for extended coverage from Action News reporter Kate Valentine.
TULARE, Calif. (KFSN) -- A former Tulare priest accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from parishioners has bailed out of jail. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno is reaching out to members to help calm any concerns.

Questions surround former priest Ignacio Villafan of St. Rita's Catholic Church in Tulare. This week he was arrested and charged with embezzling $425,000.

The Diocese of Fresno was first told about accounting problems several years ago at St. Rita's. That's when they put Villafan on paid administrative leave. They also contacted Tulare police.

Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said, "Tulare Police Department did a lengthy thorough investigation and based on that we were able to file charges."

Ward says Villafan took the money from 2005 to 2012. If he's found guilty, Villafan could face seven years in state prison. Right now, no one is saying what happened to the money.

Ward added, "That's one of the aspects that the Tulare Police Department and our investigators will continue to investigate."

The district attorney says that evidence will come out during a preliminary hearing. Villafan will be formally charged on January 22. He's still on paid administrative leave.

No one answered at a home in Tulare where records say Villafan lives. He spent a night in jail before bailing out on New Year's Day.

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