Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Brandon priest accused of fraud

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BRANDON -- A Brandon priest is accused of fraud based on an allegation that more than $190,000 in personal expenses were charged to a church credit card.

The accused appeared in court for the first time on Monday, but Father Shane Bengry said that members of the Anglican Diocese of Brandon had already been notified of the accusations.

"We wanted to be as transparent as possible to our congregations … we tried to keep people abreast of what was going on," said Bengry, who is chairman of the communication committee for the diocese.

Noah James Bernard Njegovan, 30, is charged with fraud over $5,000.

He made his first appearance in Brandon court on Monday, and his next court date is set for May 9.

Njegovan is the son of Brandon Bishop Jim Njegovan.

Noah Njegovan was executive archdeacon and assistant to his father at the time of the alleged offence.

He worked out of the synod office on the 300-block of 13th Street.

Noah Njegovan, an Anglican Church of Canada priest, has had his licence to officiate suspended pending the outcome of his court case. That means he presently can’t preside over church functions.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

Court documents allege that the Anglican Diocese of Brandon was defrauded when a business card was used for personal affairs between March 12, 2010, and Sept. 12, 2012.

Bengry said that a precise figure for the alleged fraud has yet to be calculated, but he said it’s clearly more than $190,000. Another estimate puts the total around $198,000.

The money represents funds gathered by diocese members through their parishes to keep the diocese running, Bengry said.

The Anglican Diocese of Brandon stretches along the length of Manitoba, along its western boundary and contains more than 50 congregations.

Losing that money has led the diocese to liquidate some of its assets to allow its work to continue.

"We’re not a wealthy diocese," Bengry said.

An insurance claim has been filed for a significant portion of the loss, but "nowhere near" the full amount.

Bengry said that financial irregularities came to light during a regular, albeit delayed, audit performed after an employee resigned in August.

The employee left of his own choosing and wasn’t fired, Bengry said. He’d held his dual positions with the diocese for about three years.

It was only later, once the replacement employee completed the audit, that the financial irregularities were found and city police were notified in mid-January.

Noah Njegovan, who currently has a Rosenort address, was arrested in February and then released pending Monday’s court date.

Congregation members were initially notified of the financial irregularities on Dec. 2, Bengry said. A letter was read from the pulpit of each Anglican church within the diocese.

Members were later provided with an update on the investigation which included the dollar estimate for the fraud. They were also told of the charge against Noah Njegovan and that he was to appear in court.

Bengry said that Bishop Njegovan, due to his relationship with the accused, kept himself out of the matter.

Fraud allegations aren’t exclusive to the church, Bengry noted.

"This happens in all sorts of organizations … people do the best they can and yet people do fail for a variety of reasons," he said.

However, in light of the allegations, the diocese has put new financial rules in place to prevent fraud.

For example, in this particular case it’s alleged that online transfers allowed the fraud to continue undetected.

Bengry said there are now strategies in place to better follow such transfers and allow the diocese executive to approve expenses.

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