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Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh says church employee stole $220K in donations

Aaron Aupperlee

A former employee of Good Samaritan Parish in Ambridge who ran up a six-figure casino gambling loss admitted to stealing more than $220,000 from donations for votive candles and the collection plate, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and Beaver County District Attorney’s Office said Friday.

Thomas P. Ross, 62, known in the church as Brother Ambrose Ross, was arraigned Friday on three counts of theft and three charges of receiving stolen property. A phone call to a number listed for Ross was not returned.

Records from Rivers Casino showed Ross had gambling transactions totaling $2.7 million from 2010 to 2015, including more than $331,000 in losses, according to the district attorney’s office.

He made $28,000 a year working for the parish.

Bishop David A. Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh said he was “deeply grieved” that someone would take money given to the church.

“I offer my prayers and consolation to the parishioners whose trust has been broken and I promise to continue full cooperation with the civil authorities,” Zubik said in a statement. “I ask your prayers for everyone who has been harmed by this, including Brother Ambrose.”

An attorney accompanied Ross to his arraignment Friday but no information for the lawyer was listed in court records. He was released on an unsecured $250,000 bond, court records show.

Ross worked as director of music and liturgy and as a fundraising coordinator from 1994 to May 2015 at Good Samaritan. He resigned after being confronted with evidence of financial irregularities, church officials said. He worked at St. Stanislaus Parish before Good Samaritan.

The church began investigating in early 2014 because a parishioner reported that his 2013 contribution statement was not accurate. Good Samaritan’s pastor, the Rev. Joseph Carr, found financial irregularities when he tried to verify cash contributions to the church.

The parish installed hidden cameras in the office in April 2015. The cameras caught Ross taking sealed bank envelopes from a safe. Ross was shown the videos in May 2015, admitted to taking the money and resigned, said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, a spokesman for the diocese.

The church turned the case over to the police, who asked they keep it quiet as their investigation unfolded. Parishioners were informed that Ross had resigned because of financial irregularities, but details of the investigation weren’t released until Friday.

A letter from Zubik about Ross and the thefts will be read to parishioners at Good Samaritan during services this weekend, Lengwin said.

The diocese said the parish followed established rules for handling money but that Ross was able to exploit a flaw in how money was handled and accounted for.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 7.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or [email protected].


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