© Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Msgr. Kevin McAuliffe, left, outside the courthouse in Las Vegas.
Msgr. Kevin McAuliffe stole about $650,000 from his Las Vegas-area parish over nearly a decade to feed a gambling addiction. His parishioners had urged the judge to show mercy.

For years, Msgr. Kevin McAuliffe lived something of a double life.

He was widely admired by his flock at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, which he helped build into one of the largest Roman Catholic parishes in the Las Vegas area. But at the same time, he was stealing money from the church.

Over nearly a decade, he pocketed about $650,000. His motive was all too familiar in Nevada. McAuliffe was a gambling addict.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan judge waved off the defense's request to give McAuliffe probation. He sentenced the priest, who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the thefts, to more than three years in prison and ordered him to pay restitution.

McAuliffe's attorney, Margaret Stanish, had asked the court to consider his lifelong devotion to the Catholic Church, which started with helping nuns when he was a schoolboy. McAuliffe has also been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and depression, she said, but in recent months had "excelled" in gambling addiction treatment.

Dozens of parishioners asked the court to show mercy. Before McAuliffe's gambling addiction was made public, some parishioners told reporters he must have had a Robin Hood-type reason to steal. McAuliffe, 59, appeared to them a picture of humility, with his scuffed boots and banged-up Cadillac.

At St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, he oversaw the construction of a K-8 school and a community center, and he promoted collections of socks and underwear for the homeless, court papers said. He has since resigned as the church's pastor, and the local bishop restricted his authority to perform various priestly duties.

"I speak for myself and many from our very large congregation, that we are sorry for what Fr. Kevin has done," parishioner Karen Kinney said in a letter to the court, "but all the good that he has done for all of us over these many years has outweighed the sin of taking the money from our church."

But the judge was more heavily swayed by prosecutors, who focused on the length and depth of McAuliffe's deception. He falsified parish financial reports and shuffled money among accounts to cover his thefts, court papers said.

McAuliffe never sought treatment for his betting problem, prosecutors said, though he could have through the church or private counselors. He also left his own savings untouched as he burned through the church's money, they said.