Tulare pastor sentenced to probation for financial crimes against church

TULARE, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Tulare pastor has been sentenced for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his church.

Prosecutors say Villafan stole more than $312,000 from St. Rita's Catholic Church from 2005 to 2012, using church checks for personal use and giving church funds to family members.

Wednesday, Judge Gary Paden sentenced Ignacio Villafan to five years of probation for his crimes.

Villafan entered a no contest plea in March. At that time, Paden indicated he did not plan on sending Villafan to prison.

"Many positions held in our communities are positions of trust, and it is troubling when that trust is betrayed," said Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward. "Mr. Villafan's crime affected those who trusted him in ways we'll never know, and to this day Mr. Villafan has done little to nothing to restore that trust and faith. To think that a person could steal such a large sum and not face incarceration undermines the justice that we in the District Attorney's Office seek every day."

Bishop Armando Ochoa addressed the court during Wednesday sentencing. He asked Judge Paden to "consider the steps of restorative justice," instead of prison time.

"So we just look at it a little more broadly," said Teresa Dominguez, director of communications for the Diocese of Fresno. "If someone is sitting in a prison cell, that clearly sends the message that what you did was wrong, do not ever do it again. But it does not help the healing process. And that's what we are most focused on, is healing both relationships and also financially as well."

Villafan remains on administrative leave with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.

Church officials say Villafan could reenter parish life at some point, but if and when he does, they say he won't have access to any of the church's finances.

A restitution hearing is set for October 22nd.

Judge Paden said if Villafan doesn't start to repay the church by then, he will go to jail.
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