By Ed Runyan
The priest at Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Niles says he hopes Michael Marrara will take responsibility for the $97,000 Marrara is accused of stealing from the parish since 2007 and make restitution.
Marrara, 58, of Sayers Avenue, pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of grand theft Monday morning in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, where Judge Peter Kontos set bond at $10,000.
Father John-Michael Lavelle said he discovered within the first two weeks of his arrival at the parish in June 2012 that Marrara, then maintenance supervisor for the church, purchased about $22 worth of pool chemicals on the church’s credit card even though the church doesn’t have a pool.
When the pastor asked him about it, Marrara said he had meant to pay back the church for the chemicals but forgot.
But the pastor learned from the previous pastor that Marrara had admitted taking $9,300 from the church earlier and had promised to pay it back. But Marrara had made only two $300 payments, then stopped paying in 2011.
Pastor Lavelle called Niles police right away after learning about the pool chemicals but waited to terminate Marrara from his job until a couple of weeks later. He was advised to wait until the annual Mount Carmel Festival was over since Marrara also was the festival chairman, the pastor said.
Marrara’s employment was terminated July 23, 2012.
It took many months to complete the investigation, said Capt. Ken Criswell of the Niles Police Department, which filed the charges.
Marrara also is a full-time city employee, working in the Niles Sewer Department. A call to Niles Mayor Ralph Infante seeking information on Marrara’s employment status with the city was not returned Monday.
Father Lavelle and a committee of the parish reviewed bills dating back to 2007 arising from Marrara’s use of the parish’s credit card and uncovered numerous fraudulent charges, Father Lavelle said.
Among them were $2,838 for campground sites in Portage County, $9,974 for tuition at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, for relatives of Marrara’s, $9,783 at Sears, $10,702 at a gas station, $15,103 in charges to the telephone company Sprint and $7,541 for Time Warner cable services, according to Marrara’s indictment.
If convicted, Marrara could get 18 months in prison.
Father Lavelle said he replaced the accounting system and the former bookkeeper at the parish when he first arrived at the parish, before he even discovered that Marrara might be stealing from the parish.
A neighbor of Marrara’s, Doreen Kascsak, said she finds it hard to believe that Marrara did anything like this.
“He’s a good husband, a good father. I’m just totally shocked,” she said, adding that she’s known Marrara since high school and lived next to him 13 years.