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Armstrong a no-show at his own church trial


An ecclesiastical court panel heard more than three hours of evidence Tuesday in Denver regarding allegations that the Rev. Don Armstrong stole and misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars of Grace and St. Stephen's Church funds over several years.

Armstrong and his lawyer did not attend the hearing at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral, headquarters of the Episcopal Church's Colorado Diocese.

Two diocesan lawyers presented stacks of documents, slides and two witnesses in a case that seeks revocation of the embattled cleric's ordination and some $610,000 in restitution.

Alan Crippen, a spokesman for Armstrong, said the proceedings did not apply to the reverend since he is no longer a priest within the U.S. Episcopal Church. The five-member, lay-clergy court panel was asked to find Armstrong guilty of six specified counts, including theft, tax fraud, even improper use of a fund designated for the "poor and needy."

Diocesan lawyer Ty Gee told the panel Armstrong is using a "smokescreen to conceal his grave offenses and crimes."

White-haired Karl Ross, an 82-year-old retired Colorado Springs lawyer and longtime church member, testified via video that he oversaw the church's Clarice Bowton Trust, which in 1979 was set up following Bowton's death to fund the educations of needy, single Episcopalians pursuing careers in ministry.

Ross' answers to lawyers' questions indicated that Armstrong circumvented the trust's rigorous rules, and misappropriated funds to, among other things, pay for the education of his own children.

The other witness, Sheri Betzer, a former Internal Revenue Service agent, testified that a decade's worth of accounting records were spotty or missing during an investigation she conducted for the diocese. She also said Armstrong wrongfully took loans, used Grace money to pay personal and family expenses, and apparently didn't report the potential income to tax authorities.

Along with asking the court to remove Armstrong from the priesthood and to seek restitution, Gee said the court is asked to return "all property" to the diocese, including the building.

Crippen said Grace's secessionist board is conducting a separate audit that will be made public this month.

Written, count-by-count verdicts will be issued "soon," said Rev. Peter Munson of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in Boulder, who heads the church court panel.

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