PALM DESERT ( — Authorities on Saturday arrested an alleged car thief — who was reportedly posing as an Episcopal priest — after a short foot pursuit.

The arrest took place after the suspect ran across busy Highway 74 in Palm Desert, according to a Riverside County Sheriff’s sergeant.

Sheriff’s deputies investigating a trespassing call at 7:50 a.m. found Mark Dean Chaffins, 41, of Rancho Mirage, standing in the pulpit of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church on Highway 74, Riverside County sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Devinny said.

Chaffins allegedly told deputies he was a pastor preparing a sermon.

When deputies learned Chaffins was not a member of the clergy, he fled.

Officials said Chaffins also left behind a car he initially denied owning.

Deputies reportedly caught up with him, a second time, at another church, Devinny said.

When he was approached by deputies, Chaffins bolted across Highway 74, according to Devinny. Deputies caught up with Chaffins, handcuffed him and took him back to St. Margaret’s, where they learned the car (with no license plates) had been reported stolen out of Palm Springs, according to Devinny.

Deputies said Chaffins had the car keys, according to Devinny.

Employees at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church told deputies they found evidence of a break-in.

Chaffins was arrested for suspicion of burglary, vehicle theft, possession of methamphetamine, resisting a peace officer and other offenses, Devinny said.

The suspect had been released from jail on November 6 for receiving known stolen property and taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent. In that arrest, he posted $10,000 bail and was released.

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