An elderly widow has filed suit in Los Angeles against a Catholic priest she said befriended her after her husband’s death and used his influence to steal $284,000 from her.
Michalena Jones, 79, said in the lawsuit that she met Father Peter Valdez at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Palmdale after her husband died in 2003.
The priest persuaded Jones to give him a cashier’s check for $150,000 to buy a home in Downey and added his name to her checking account, which he used to make mortgage payments, the lawsuit said.
“Jones was a a devout Catholic. She developed a great admiration, trust, reverance and respect for and obedience to Roman Catholic clergy, who occupied great influence and persuasion as holy men and authority figures,” Jones' lawsuit says. This caused her to “respect and obey Catholic priests, including Defendant Valdez.”
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also seeks damages from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which it accuses of failing to intervene after it learned of the situation.
Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said in an email: “The archdiocese had no knowledge of the alleged financial transactions between Father Valdez and the plaintiff. Beyond this, archdiocesan policy precludes comment on pending litigation.”
Valdez was placed on administrative leave Friday "and will be living privately," Tamberg said.
Valdez, 46, had served as priest since 1998 and was at St. Mary's from 2003 to 2005,
Valdez could not be reached for comment.
Jones’ attorney, William McMillan, said he has had numerous discussions with the archdiocese but has been unable to resolve the matter out of court.
According to the lawsuit, the thefts were not discovered until November 2011, when Jones’ son took over her finances because she was in a convalescent home.
The son discovered that Valdez had been stealing from Jones from 2003 until 2010, the lawsuit said. Valdez has made promises of returning the money but has failed to do so, McMillan said.
Los Angeles County property records show that a person named Peter Valdez bought a home on Brock Avenue in Downey -- the home mentioned in the lawsuit -- for $620,000 in 2006, taking a mortgage for $480,000.
He sold the home in 2010 for $330,000, the records show.
The lawsuit accuses Valdez and the archdiocese of elder abuse and fraud and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.