Man gets 10 years in prison for bilking Vincentians

Thursday, September 13, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A business consultant who defrauded a Catholic religious order of hundreds of thousands of dollars has been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson on Wednesday sentenced William Davidson, 51, for conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, bank fraud, tax evasion and money laundering. He was also ordered to repay the money.

Davidson took more than $700,000 from the Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Vincentians, and failed to pay $650,000 in taxes on his earnings.

Lawyers for Davidson questioned whether he could have duped the Vincentians for years and questioned their "opulent" mansion and fleet of cars.

Davidson began working with the Vincentians in 1995. His contract paid him $150 an hour with a guarantee of at least 1,200 hours per year, a car and office space.

Prosecutors and Davidson's lawyers, John Stobbs and Steve Welby, argued in federal court in St. Louis over how much Davidson took from the Vincentians' Midwest Province, which serves Missouri, Illinois, Colorado, Kansas and Kenya.

Federal prosecutors accused Davidson of costing the Vincentians more than $2.4 million on the construction of the Lazarist Residence, an apartment building in south St. Louis County. They said the order lost hundreds of thousands more in other shady transactions and outright fraud.

Stobbs and Welby, in court documents, accused prosecutors of trying to "attribute almost every bad business decision ever made by the Vincentians" to Davidson. They fault the Vincentians' "opulent mansion" and fleet of more than 100 cars and the "sumptuous lifestyle" of Brother Francis Joseph Hess, the province's treasurer from 1982 to 2002.

It was Hess, now of Colorado, who signed many of the contracts and checks. Prosecutors say he made at least $30,000. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of delaying or destroying mail but has not been sentenced. Prosecutors are seeking a year in prison; his attorneys are seeking probation.

Hess' lawers have argued he was "trusting and naive" and was manipulated by Davidson. Davidson's attorneys disagree.

"If anything Brother Hess was the 'ringleader' of this crime," they wrote.

The order says the incident has led to tightened financial controls and denies its residence is "opulent."

Jackson said that Davidson, Hess and real estate agent Ronald Armbruster were each responsible for repaying the $719,000 taken from the order. Armbruster was not charged for his role in a rigged real estate deal, instead entering a pretrial diversion program.

Davidson will forfeit a house worth more than $380,000, properties in Louisiana and St. Charles, a $1,000 Rolex watch, a $10,000 man's engagement ring, and bank and investment accounts.

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

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