Michigan priest sentenced in $2.7M real estate scheme

South Bend, Indiana (AP) December 2010

A Michigan man who defrauded real estate developers and churches of more than $2.7 million while presenting himself as a priest associated with the University of Notre Dame has been sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Byron “Father Barney” Canada, 62, of Berrien Springs, Mich., was sentenced last week in federal court in South Bend, the South Bend Tribune reported. Canada pleaded guilty in March to 24 counts including wire fraud, money laundering and criminal conspiracy.

Canada ran two lending corporations based in South Bend and through them bilked borrowers between 2004 and 2009, according to court documents.

Canada collected upfront fees from borrowers including real estate developers, commercial developers and other businesses as well as churches seeking to pay for building projects, court documents said.

He kept the fees, which ranged from $5,000 to $250,000, as advance payments for loans that his companies were incapable of financing, court documents said.

According to court documents, Canada dressed in clerical garb and took victims on tours of the chapel at Notre Dame to give the scheme “an aura of legitimacy and honesty.”

Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. noted in his sentencing order that Canada stole from many religious institutions.

“He did these dressed as a man of cloth, using a faith-based university as a stage for his grift,” Miller wrote.

Canada would tell victims that part of their advance fees would be used for a charitable organization or church, the Tribune said. When investors called to demand their money back, Canada would ignore them or have attorneys threaten to countersue those who threatened legal action.

Canada has been convicted on federal fraud charges on three previous occasions in Michigan, Massachusetts and West Virginia, the Tribune reported.

Court records said Canada was ordained a priest with the Native American Diocese Christ’s Worldwide Apostolic Catholic Church in New Carlisle in 2001. He was an ordained Orthodox-Catholic priest but a church official said he later left that church. Other churches Canada has claimed connections with have contradicted his claims, the Tribune said.