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Accused monsignor 'a soft touch for hardened ex-cons'

Monsignor Thomas Gradilone was a "soft touch" taken advantage of by hardened ex-cons - but he wasn't guilty of embezzling $A3.88 million from his parish, New York Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said this week.

74-year-old Gradilone - the target of a massive embezzlement probe - exhibited a "disturbing pattern of questionable transactions and expenditures," giving away millions that had been donated to his posh Forest Hills parish, Brown said.

He even doled out $A48,506 to a drug-abusing Queens couple who convinced him he was providing their baby with nappies, baby formula and day care when, in fact, they had turned their newborn son over to foster care.

In addition to footing their bills, the priest gave another $A48,506 to a cousin of the father, who was also an ex-con with a lengthy criminal record.

Brown, whose office conducted a yearlong probe, said the biggest recipient was Frank Vivona, an ex-con who did odd jobs at the parish and received $A776,096 over five years.

"Our investigation found a disturbing pattern of abused discretion, poor judgment and bad decision- making by [Gradilone] in handling parish funds," Brown said.

But there was nothing criminal, because he had wide latitude for "charitable endeavours," Brown added.

"He was an extremely soft touch," an investigative source said. "Homeless people and ex-cons who travelled on the subway near his church heard about him, told others about him and would stop by the church for money.

The revelations about the missing funds last year rocked the parish. It forced the Brooklyn Diocese to send him to a Canadian treatment center for counselling.

Missing Millions Rock Forest Hills Church (Western Queens Gazette 10/4/00)
Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, Forest Hills, Queens

New York Post