Cyprian Meier appears in court

On Tuesday, Cyprian Meier is motioned by a Burleigh County deputy to sit to begin his sentencing hearing on the exploitation of a vulnerable adult, a class B felony.

A former priest who stole money from a paralyzed man in order to participate in Internet scams has been sentenced in district court.

South Central District Judge Donald Jorgensen sentenced Cyprian Meier, 68, to 18 months, with all but time served suspended for five years. Meier will receive credit for the 148 days he already served in the Burleigh County Detention Center.

Jorgensen also ordered Meier to pay $29,008.80 to the victim’s estate and perform 60 hours of community service.

According to court documents, Meier provided home health care for a 56-year-old Bismarck man from May to October 2011. The Bismarck man, who was paralyzed and died on Dec. 3, told Bismarck police in November that he believed Meier had been making unauthorized transactions on his savings and checking accounts.

Detective Chad Seidel spoke to Meier, who admitted to using the other man’s money “to fund his addictions to money scams, such as Internet scams,” Seidel wrote in an affidavit.

Meier pleaded guilty to exploitation of a vulnerable adult, a Class B felony, in January. His lawyer, Kent Morrow, and Assistant State’s Attorney Dawn Deitz reached a plea agreement which Jorgensen accepted in court Tuesday.

During Meier’s sentencing, Jorgensen said he did not have a lot of experience with gambling addictions but had never had a case in which the victim was “truly as vulnerable as this gentleman was.”

“What bothers me about the circumstance is it wasn’t a single transaction. It was 86 transactions,” he said.

Jorgensen said Meier may not have access to accounts, documents, public bonding, licensure, property other than his own or be entrusted to the monies of others, as a condition of his probation.

Morrow said Meier has no prior criminal history and that Meier’s remorse for his actions was genuine. Meier was addicted to Internet scams and was “powerless” to walk away from the scams, he said.

“This gives him the opportunity to, essentially, give back what he took,” Morrow said.

Deitz said the state’s focus is making sure restitution is paid to the victim’s family.

“I believe the defendant’s time on probation will give him the tools he needs to repay the restitution in a timely manner as well as avoid getting into the same kind of behavior that got him into this in the first place,” Deitz told the court.

Meier expressed concern that it would be difficult for him to find a job at age 68 with a felony on his record. However, “I will make every effort to make restitution,” he said.

Jorgensen asked Meier why he did not take advantage of earlier opportunities to address his Internet scam addiction in prior treatment facility settings.

“I was not ready to accept them at the time, sir,” Meier said.

Meier is a former priest who worked at Mandan’s Spirit of Life Catholic Church until former Bishop Paul Zipfel ordered him to resign in 2005. Meier had been using money given to him by parishioners to participate in money-making schemes that turned out to be Internet scams. Zipfel told him to resign after he continued participating in the schemes despite being told to stop. Meier later asked to be released from his vows and left the priesthood.

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Reach reporter Mara Van Ells at 250-8251 or mara.vanells@bismarcktribune.com.