HIGHLAND PARK (CBSLA.com) — A man was arrested Tuesday, accused of posing as a Catholic priest and stealing from parishioners.
Erwin Mena was taken into custody in Elysian Park without incident, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Investigators said over several years, Mena posed as a priest and visited a number of Catholic churches throughout the L.A. area, including St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Highland Park.
Churchgoer Nancy Resendiz said she remembered Mena from early last year. “Mainly some of the homilies he gave; some of the things he talked about just didn’t seem right,” she said.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles reported Mena to the LAPD, which started its investigation in June. Investigators said the 59-year-old had officiated masses, confessions, funerals and at least one wedding since the mid 1990’s.
According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Mena not only stole churchgoers’ trust, he stole their money, too.
The alleged priest impersonator swindled churchgoers out of thousands of dollars by selling bogus trips to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia last year, said detectice Gary Guevara of the LAPD.
“People around here in the community Latinos, we give. We give to our priest. We give to our church. We want to help out. So, people out of their kind heart, they gave. And he took advantage of that,” Resendiz said.
The Los Angeles Archdiocese said it is supposed to make sure priests are appropriately credentialed. They say the parish priest is supposed to check with the archdiocese, but no one did.
The archdiocese added that all clergy, employees and volunteers must be fingerprinted and go through training.