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Ex-usher at church admits to petit theft

A former usher at St. Paul Catholic Church in Kenmore pleaded guilty Tuesday to a reduced charge of petit larceny for stealing as much as $2,000 from collection proceeds over several months between Sept. 1, 2009, and last July 11.

John E. Wheeler, 49, of Post Road, Amherst, also pleaded guilty to jumping bail Dec. 12.

Kenmore Village Justice Scott F. Riordan set bail for Wheeler at $100,000 and scheduled sentencing for March 22. Riordan said Wheeler faces a jail sentence that could range from three months to a year. Wheeler was returned to jail after not posting bail.

According to a report filed with the Kenmore Police Department by a priest at St. Paul's, Wheeler showed up at the church in September 2009 and volunteered to serve as an usher at the 5 p.m. Mass. Shortly afterward, he began to serve as an usher at all three of the Sunday Masses and usually worked the collection area.

The Rev. Jay W. McGinnis, who filed a complaint July 11, told police he saw Wheeler fumbling near the collection basket and taking what appeared to be a white envelope and placing it in his pants pocket.

Police said that after Wheeler was arrested, he admitted to stealing $2,000 from the church over a period of time to support a cocaine habit. A warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to appear in court Dec. 12.

Wheeler declined to talk with reporters Wednesday as he was brought into Village Court.

At one point, his lawyer, John Bedaska, requested that he and his client be allowed to meet with a representative of the Erie County District Attorney's Office. Wheeler was away from the court for about 40 minutes before he returned.

After his return, Wheeler, who was originally charged with fourth-degree grand larceny, a felony, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of petit larceny, a misdemeanor.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffneww.com

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