LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A man was charged Wednesday for allegedly stealing $53,000 from churchgoers by posing as a priest at two Catholic churches in Los Angeles.
Erwin Mena, 59, was charged with 19 counts of grand theft, eight counts of misdemeanor petty theft and one count each of perjury, procuring and filing false documents and practicing medicine without a license. All charges are felonies, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. Mena made his first court appearance on Wednesday.
In June 2015, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles contacted the Los Angeles Police Department to report that their parishioners had been defrauded by Mena.
Mena is suspected of passing himself off as a priest starting as far back as October 2014 at two Catholic churches where he performed mass, confessions and a wedding. He is also suspected of swindling parishioners at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Glassell Park and St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Highland Park.
At St. Ignatius, Mena is suspected of selling tickets for a pilgrimage to see Pope Francis during his U.S. visit in September. Prosecutors in the case said he never made travel arrangements and the trip never happened, totaling a loss of $53,000 for those who bought tickets.
Cesar Romero says Mena took $1,500 from him. He says Mena told him he needed the money to make a CD with religious music.
The Archdiocese released the following statement following Mena's arrest on Tuesday.
"We are grateful to the Los Angeles Police Department for working to ensure that Erwin Mena was brought to justice. Our prayers go out to all the victims of his scam," the statement said. "The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is committed to providing pastoral care and sacramental support to the victims and others impacted by this situation."
Prosecutors are recommending his bail be set at $100,000. If convicted, Mena faces a maximum 21-year sentence in state prison that would be served in county jail. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 24.
The LAPD continues to investigate the case. Anyone with information was asked to call Detective Guevara at (213) 486-6630. During non-business hours, people may call (877) 527-3247. Those wishing to remain anonymous may call (800) 222-8477.
Man suspected of posing as priest, stealing $53K from LA church members