He called them his grandmas.
The Rev. Alex Orozco befriended the elderly women shortly after his assignment to St. Rose of Lima parish in Short Hills.
Orozco was a new priest, charming and kind and afire with enthusiasm.
And always, it seemed, willing to accept money, parishioners said.
For a car. For a big-screen TV. For a house in the Poconos. For another house in his native Colombia. For credit card bills. For a second car. For plane tickets. For furniture. For dental work.
From 2013 through the end of last year, Orozco allegedly took more than $250,000 in cash and goods from women in the wealthy parish after telling them hard-luck stories about the financial woes afflicting him, his family members and his friends.
The case has sparked a criminal investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and has raised broader questions about the limits on what clergymen should accept from generous parishioners and whether some of those transactions rise to the level of fraud or theft.
A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation said detectives are trying to determine how many people Orozco solicited money and gifts from at St. Rose before his transfer last year to a different post at the Church of the Nativity in Midland Park, Bergen County.
Both churches are in the Archdiocese of Newark, which has not informed either parish of the allegations, according to parishioners and the law enforcement official, who was not authorized to speak for attribution.
The official called the investigation “open and active,” saying Orozco sometimes collected multiple payments from different parishioners for the same expenses — car payments and insurance, for instance — even though both were covered by the archdiocese.
Read the story on NJ.com (Oct. 1, 2015)
The Archdiocese of Newark knew three years ago that one of its priests was “milking” an elderly parishioner for tens of thousands of dollars but took no action, allowing him to collect even more money from others for his personal use, a whistleblower clergyman contends.
The Rev. Alex Orozco, 37, allegedly accepted more than $250,000 in cash and goods from parishioners of St. Rose of Lima Church in Short Hills between the fall of 2012 and October 2014, when he transferred to a new post in Bergen County.
That largesse — including checks made out to cash, credit card payments, car purchases and at least $25,000 for a vacation home Orozco acknowledges he never bought — is the subject of an investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, NJ Advance Media reported last week.
Since then, one of Orozco’s fellow clergymen said he personally reported Orozco’s behavior to the archdiocese late in 2012, speaking first to the director of priest personnel and then to the vicar general, the second-in-command to Archbishop John J. Myers. The priest said he doesn’t know if either alerted Myers.
The revelation raises questions about whether church officials missed an opportunity to rein in Orozco before he allegedly accepted money from other parishioners, who say he lied to them and fed them financial sob stories, taking advantage of their generosity and wealth.
“It bothered me so much when I was informed he was taking this money,” said the priest, the pastor of a different church at the time. “I was furious.
“That is not what we’re about,” he continued. “Here’s this guy coming from nowhere milking a woman for all these funds. I don’t want him getting away with it.” (More)
A Roman Catholic priest under investigation for allegedly accepting more than $250,000 in cash and gifts from elderly parishioners at a Short Hills church has taken a leave of absence from his new parish while the criminal probe unfolds, his attorney said. (More)