updated 12/5/2007 7:29:04 AM ET 2007-12-05T12:29:04

A former priest who stole about $1.3 million from his parish to support a life of luxury was sentenced Tuesday to 37 months in prison. The Rev. Michael Jude Fay also was ordered to pay $1 million in restitution.

Fay, who pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge in September, set up secret bank accounts to pay for travel around the world and to buy a condominium, authorities have said.

In a courtroom apology, the 56-year-old Fay said his mistakes have brought shame to his parishioners, his family and his friends.

"I beg you for your mercy," Fay said, who has prostate cancer. "Do not send me to prison. I am already in prison."

Limo rides, Cartier jewelry
Federal prosecutors asked that Fay be sentenced to at least four years but were pleased with the outcome.

"This crime quite frankly transcends dollars," prosecutor Richard Schecter said. "It took place unabated and in a growing fashion. Mr. Fay served himself."

Fay resigned last year as pastor of St. John Roman Catholic Church in Darien after investigators working for the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport said Fay used church money for limousines, stays at top hotels around the world, jewelry and clothing from Italy.

The priest shopped at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, drove a Jaguar, attended a sports club, bought jewelry from Cartier, spent $130,000 for limo rides for himself and his mother, and stayed at hotels such as the Ritz Carlton, Hotel De Paris and the Four Seasons Hotel, the church report found. Fay has repaid nearly $280,000.

'Day of great sorrow'
U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton said Fay's action were carried out over several years and ultimately devastated church members.

The sentence, she said, "is a message that not even the collar can protect you from prison," she said.

In a news release, the diocese called Tuesday's proceedings "a day of great sorrow for all concerned."

Fay is to report to prison April 2.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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