LAPD: Fake Catholic priest defrauded parishioners of $53,000

Erwin Mena is accused of impersonating a Catholic priest  and defrauding parishioners.

Story highlights

  • Erwin Mena is accused of swindled people out of $53,000 since October 2014, a prosecutor says
  • He allegedly posed as a priest at Catholic parishes, claimed to sell tickets to see Pope Francis
  • Mena faces 30 counts -- including 19 for grand theft and 1 each for perjury, forgery, illegally practicing medicine

(CNN)The people of Southern California called him "Padre."

For years, Erwin Mena officiated Mass, took confessions, celebrated a wedding and performed other rites of the Catholic Church.
One problem: He's never been a Catholic priest. The way police describe him, con man might be a better title.
Now he's behind bars in Los Angeles, after a felony warrant was issued for his arrest.
That document laid out 30 counts against Mena, including 19 counts of grand theft of property worth more than $950 and eight instances of alleged petty theft.
In all, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office alleged that the 59-year-old swindled people out of about $53,000 while pretending to be a priest at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Glassell Park and St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Highland Park.
"Mena is accused of ... selling tickets for a pilgrimage to see Pope Francis during his visit to the United States last September," the district attorney's office said. "Prosecutors said he never made the arrangements and the trip didn't take place."

Theft, illegally practicing medicine, perjury counts

According to police, Mena officiated "officiated church ceremonies and solicited donations on behalf of the church(s), but kept the money for himself."
And it wasn't just a matter of swiping a few dollars from the Sunday church offerings. He got hundreds of dollars -- even $11,690 from one individual -- from multiple people, the prosecutor's office said.
In addition to theft, Mena is also charged with perjury, forgery and one count of practicing medicine without a license.
Except for the petty theft misdemeanor counts, all the counts he faces are felonies. If he's convicted across the board, he could face 21 years behind bars.
Los Angeles police took Mena into custody Tuesday without incident.
"We are grateful to the Los Angeles Police Department for working to ensure that Erwin Mena was brought to justice," the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said afterward in a statement. "Our prayers go out to all the victims of his scam."