Man Accused of Posing as Catholic Priest in Northeast L.A., Stealing $53,000 Charged With Multiple Felonies

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Los Angeles police arrest Erwin Mena in Elysian Park on Tuesday on suspicion of grand theft and impersonation of a priest. (Credit: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A man accused of posing as a Catholic priest at two Northeast Los Angeles churches, and stealing thousands of dollars from parishioners who believed they were going on pilgrimages to see Pope Francis, was arraigned Wednesday on several felony charges, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.

Erwin Mena, 59, has been 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 felonies, the DA stated in a news release.

The allegations came after he was arrested in Elysian Park on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Mena had pretended to be a priest at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Glassell Park and St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Highland Park since October 2014, the DA stated in a news release.

However, court documents show Mena had misrepresented himself as a priest since the mid-1990s, turning up in Catholic parishes or prayer groups in San Bernardino, Orange County, Stockton and Fresno, the Times reports.

During the Northeast L.A. ruse, he officiated at masses, confessions and weddings, according to the DA.

He also swindled parishioners into believing he was selling tickets for a pilgrimage to see Pope Francis during his visit to the United States last September.

The trips — which the Times reports sold for $500 to $1,000 — never took place, and Mena never made the arrangements, the DA stated.

Mena also received $16,000 from an undisclosed organization to record and produce CDs about Pope Francis, the Times reports.

He pirated videos originally produced in Madrid, and later sold them, investigators told the newspaper.

Total losses were estimated to be about $53,000, the DA stated in a news release. It was not clear what was included in this figure.

Mena faced a maximum sentence of 21 years in state prison, which would be served in county jail.

He appeared in court Wednesday, where prosecutors were expected to ask that his bail be set at $100,000.

The Los Angeles Police Department investigated the case.