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July 19, 2007

NIAGARA FALLS: Pastor charged with stealing

Peter Del Rio arrested for stealing $18,000 from St. Paul’s

The former pastor of a Niagara Falls church has been arrested on charges of stealing about $18,000 from the church.

Peter Del Rio, 49, who was pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church before it closed, was charged with grand larceny in the third degree after an eight-month investigation by Niagara Falls Police.

The case will be presented to a grand jury later this month.

Del Rio told police that he was promised a raise that was never delivered, according to Detective Capt. Ernest Palmer.

Del Rio and his attorney were not available to comment Thursday, but his wife spoke with a reporter.

“I am absolutely appalled at this whole thing,” said Lani Del Rio, in reference to the charges. “If you knew who Rev. Del Rio was this would be an outrage to all of you.”

The former pastor, who now performs weddings by the falls, is accused of using the church’s credit card to withdraw $13,000 for his personal use and charging $5,000 in goods and services, said Palmer.

“He said he took $13,000 to put it in a ‘Sunshine Fund’ ” for the church, Palmer said.

The police, who were tipped off to discrepancies in the credit card account by concerned members of the congregation, were never able to locate the fund.

Among other things, Del Rio told police he used the money to purchase jewelry.

Del Rio told investigators that he was owed $2,700 in back pay and seven years’ worth of pay raises, Palmer said.

In October, the pastor surrendered his clergy orders to the bishop of the United Methodist Church, Palmer said.

After the investigation began, Del Rio tried to pay off the card himself.

The case was handed over to the county district attorney’s office after an arrest was made on Feb. 23.

The former St. Paul’s building on Seventh Street was given to Potter’s House Christian Community Church.

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