London (October 23, 2019) – Former priest at St. Joseph Church in London, Amer Saka, was sentenced to two years in prison on October 22 for defrauding refugee sponsors. Approximately between 2013 and 2015, the Chaldean Catholic priest fraudulently gambled away more than $900,000. The money was designated to bring Iraqi refugees to Canada. His gambling addiction was caused by an undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder that originates in events that took place before he came to Canada.
Justice Allan Maclure sentenced former Chaldean Catholic priest, Amer Saka, for fraud on October 22. Starting in 2011, after the 54-year-old came to Canada, he had been working for the Diocese of Hamilton and was part of the refugee sponsorship program of St. Joseph Church parish in London, Ontario.
Part of Saka’s responsibility was to receive money from refugee sponsors and to deposit the funds into a trust account, which was intended to help refugees coming to Canada. In 2013, the federal quotas for refugees were eliminated. From that time on, Saka received a lot more requests from potential sponsors. Some of the sponsors even contributed their donations in cash. In 2015, the church’s sponsorship office discovered irregularities in Saka’s applications, revealing that the priest took trust money from the program.
Approximately between 2013 and 2015, Saka defrauded refugee sponsors and by association the Iraqi refugees out of at least $936,497. “These victims were the most vulnerable. They were displaced people coming from another country,” judge Maclure said. Saka’s undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder caused him to use the funds appeasing his gambling addiction.
The mental health issue was probably originated in events that took place before Saka came to Canada. When he was living in Bagdad, in 1984, his brother was murdered and, in 2005, his mother was shot and died in his arms. He described to the court that gambling took away the horror of his former life.
Saka was charged with one count of fraud over $5,000 in 2016 and had pleaded guilty last January. On October 22, Judge Maclure handed down his sentence. Saka has been ordered to two years in prison and to pay restitution. It has been said that it is unlikely that Saka will be able to pay back the money, he gambled away within the ordered 10-year-period after his release since he only earns a remote income as a priest. Judge Maclure also agreed to Saka serving his sentence in a minimum-security facility.