On Tuesday, Erwin Mena, 59, was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for impersonating a Catholic priest–while allegedly swindling parishioners out of several thousands of dollars for years.
Police revealed that Mena had posed as a priest at Catholic churches around Los Angeles, including St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Highland Park. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles reported Mena to the LAPD, according to CBS Los Angeles.
Remarkably, Mena had even officiated masses, confessions, funerals and at least one wedding for roughly twenty years. The LAPD statement read, “Over the course of several years, Mena visited multiple Catholic Parishes throughout the Los Angeles Area and portrayed himself as a Catholic Priest. Mena officiated church ceremonies and solicited donations on behalf of the church(s), but kept the money for himself.”
LAPD detective Gary Guevara said Mena sold imaginary trips to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia and New York last year, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Mena, who also used the name Menacastro, has been charged with 22 felonies and 8 misdemeanors. He sold CDs and a book titled: “Confessions of a Renegade Catholic Priest,” which he claimed he wrote.
The beginning of the end for Mena came in early June, when the pastor of St. Ignatius reported Mena to the LAPD. According to the Los Angeles Archdiocese, whenever they found out where he was, he would disappear. He traveled to Catholic parishes or prayer groups in San Bernardino, Stockton, Fresno and Orange County, according to police.
Doris Benavides, a spokeswoman for the L.A. archdiocese, acknowledged that the pastor of St. Ignatius never consulted the archdiocese list of approved priests before letting Mena celebrate at the church. Guevara added that an organization lent Mena roughly $16,000 for recording and producing CDs about Pope Francis, but the video he sold was a pirated copy of one from Madrid.