Unholy act: Thousands stolen from dying priest

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A beloved priest who dedicated his life to protecting and nurturing the faiths of Catholics throughout the borough found himself helpless to his own cousin, who pleaded guilty last week to fleecing the man of the cloth as he wasted away in the hospital.

Prosecutors said that they and attornies for John Orlando, a former Bellport Village Trustee, have hammered out a plea deal for the two counts of grand larceny filed against him last year.

Orlando, the owner of a Patchogue funeral home, pleaded guilty to stealing more than $432,000 from Fr. James J. D’Amato, 84, who had preached to Catholics at St. Thomas Aquinas Church on Flatlands and Flatbush Avenues between 1970 and 1984.

D’Amato, realizing that he was facing a serious health problem, granted his cousin power of attorney over his assets to insure that his medical and nursing home bills would be paid.

Prosecutors charge that Orlando siphoned the money from the account in checks payable to him and the funeral home. He also pulled the money from the account at various ATMs, officials said.

All of the money went to personal expenses as well as expenses related to his business, a spokesperson for the Kings County District Attorney said.

When it finally came time for the money to be used to pay for D’Amato’s medical bills and care -- which amounted to $120,000 -- the checks that were made bounced, police said.

D’Amato passed away from his illness in January. He lived long enough to see Orlando get indicted last November.

Orlando agreed to the plea deal knowing he’s expected to repay the money as well as serve anywhere from four to 12 years in prison during his sentencing on October 13.

Friends of Father D’Amato said the priest was ordained in 1949. Over the years he served as an assistant at St. John the Evangelist in Park Slope, taught at St. Francis Prep and St. Joseph’s College for Women and was a chaplain at Pratt Institute besides preaching at St. Thomas Aquinas parish.

D’Amato, an avid boater who often sailed from Sheepshead Bay, retired as a senior priest in 1995.

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