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Feds accuse Starkville priest of scamming parishioners

A federal agent is accusing a Starkville priest of conning church members out of money by claiming he had cancer and spending the money on himself.

Posted: Nov 12, 2018 7:24 PM
Updated: Nov 15, 2018 9:33 AM

Update 11/14/18 9:33 a.m.

The following statement was released to WTVA by a GoFundMe spokesperson:

Father Lenin Vargas on the St. Joseph Catholic Church website

"Campaigns with misuse are very rare, making up less than one-tenth of one percent of all campaigns. With that said, there are instances where individuals fabricate a diagnosis and commit fraud. In this case, GoFundMe has taken action, banned the individual, and will offer refunds to the donors.

It’s important to remember that our platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee, which means that in the rare case that GoFundMe, law enforcement or a user finds campaigns are misused, donors are fully protected and will get refunded."

See the original post below.

JACKSON, Miss. (WTVA) - A federal agent is accusing a Starkville priest of conning church members out of money by claiming he had cancer and spending the money on himself.

That priest, Father Lenin Vargas, has been removed from pastoral and financial duties at St. Joseph Catholic Church by the Catholic Diosese of Jackson while the federal government investigates the allegations of wrongdoing.

The affidavit, provided by our news partner, the Starkville Daily News, says Vargas started telling parishioners in 2014 he had cancer and a GoFundMe account was set up to collect money to cover his medical expenses.

Special Agent William Childers in the affidavit quotes a confidential informant saying that the priest also told church members he was going to Canada for cancer treatment.

However, the feds say Vargas went to a treatment center in Toronto that treats priests for sexual addiction.  They also say that Vargas doesn't have cancer but is HIV positive.

The affidavit also contends the priest raised money for a Mexican orphanage and a chapel but spent it on personal expenses.

It also accuses the Diocese of Jackson of doing little to protect parishioners from being scammed even though church officials knew there were concerns about Vargas's handling of money at St. Joseph.

The diocese says it heard the complaints, found that Vargas was violating diocesan policy concerning charitable fundraising and told him to stop raising money for charities unless the church knew about it ahead of time.

Vargas has not been charged with a crime, and WTVA normally does not name those people even though they have been accused of wrongdoing. However, an exception was made in this case because of the source of the accusations, the seriousness of the accusations and the position of trust that Vargas holds.

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