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Michigan priest raising money for defense in theft case

FILE - In this June 1, 2017 file photo, the Rev. Jonathan Wehrle appears in court for a preliminary hearing over embezzlement allegations at the 55th District Court in Mason, Mich. Wehrle is charged with six counts of embezzling $100,000 or more from St. Martha Church in Okemos, east of Lansing. The charges allege Wehrle used the money to pay for home construction, maintenance and other personal purchases. A judge Wednesday, March 28, 2018 approved the Princeton Excess and Surplus Lines Insurance Corporation's request to place Wehrle's more than $1 million estate into receivership. The insurance provider says it's paid out about $2.5 million to the diocese to cover its losses so far. (Julie Nagy/Lansing State Journal via AP)

A Lansing-area priest accused of embezzling more than $5 million from his church is trying to raise $300,000 for his defense just weeks before trial.

The Lansing State Journal says a group called Opus Bono has sent a letter on behalf of the Rev. Jonathan Wehrle. The letter says he's in "dire need."

Wehrle is charged with six counts of embezzling $100,000 or more from St. Martha Church in Okemos. He lived at a property worth more than $1 million in Williamston. Trial is scheduled for Aug. 13.

Joe Maher, Opus Bono's president, says he doesn't believe there was "criminal intent" by Wehrle. The priest's attorney claims he had an agreement with a bishop to use church funds for a home.

Auditors said more than $5 million is missing.

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