Former chancellor of Omaha diocese accused of stealing over $150,000

Photo: Douglas County Department of Corrections

(Omaha, NE) -- An Omaha area priest is arrested, accused of stealing over $150,000 from the estate of incapacitated retired priest.

Investigators accuse Rev. Michael Gutgsell of stealing $154,732 from the estate of a priest who willed his estate to the Archdiocese of Omaha. Gutgsell was arrested Friday morning, and is facing felony charges of theft and abuse of a vulnerable adult. Court documents show that Gutgsell is accused of stealing the money between Oct. 12, 2018, and January 2020. Father Gutgsell was the priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Springfield until July 2021.

Court documents state that Sarpy County auditors had found “irregularities” in the church finances, specifically that Gutgsell had the bookkeeper write out 76 checks, totaling about $123,000, to the priest between October 2019 and July 2021. The Archdiocese of Omaha called him in for an interview on Aug. 2, at which time he admitted to taking $180,000, saying he was giving the money to a homeless man he had met in May 2013 while he was a pastor at St. Cecelia Cathedral Church.

Investigators say bank records showed that Gutgsell had written 111 checks, totaling $167,382, to himself from the account of a retired priest who had died in December 2019 and willed his estate to the Archdiocese of Omaha. Gutgsell, who was made power of attorney or personal representative on the retired priest’s accounts in January 2017, also made 14 other cash withdrawals totaling $11,660, documents state. With access to retirement and brokerage accounts, Gutgsell used the funds to write himself checks. He also purchased about $50,000 in mutual funds in November 2019, court records show.

Gutgsell said he gave the money to a homeless man he had also been giving his own money to. At one point the man said he would reimburse Gutgsell using a Social Security disability account that was being withheld from him. The priest said over time he paid $250,000 from his own personal funds before eventually draining his banking, retirement, and insurance accounts. Court records show that in early 2017 and again in October 2019, Gutgsell began taking money from the archdiocese when he began running out of his own funds. He said he had been working to pay back the money, reimbursing about $19,000.

In total, Gutgsell said he had given the man about $700,000 between May 2013 to July 2021.

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