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FAMILY FURY OVER WILL 'CON' PRIEST; He might have to pay back pounds 1.5m to estate.

Byline: CAOIMHE YOUNG

AN IRISH priest who talked an elderly American woman into leaving him pounds 1.3million was branded a "conman" last night.

Violet Boquet, 87, shocked relatives when she left her fortune to Fr Patrick Cooke, 70, from Dublin.

None of her family even knew him, and now a US court has ruled he used "undue influence" to get the money before she died of breast cancer in 1996.

Fr Cooke could face a massive payback bill if Judge Walter Little backs the ruling.

In that case, he would have to return a total of pounds 1,529,218 to the estate.

Fr Cooke, terminally ill in Kimmage Manor Hospice, Dublin, had used the cash to buy a Florida townhouse for himself and his housekeeper.

And he gave pounds 135,000 to his order, the Holy Ghost Fathers.

Last night Violet Boquet's nephew Joe Bush, of Boardman, Ohio, slammed the elderly priest. He said: "He conned our aunt."

And speaking after the ruling Joe said: "I'm just so pleased the jury came to that conclusion. They understood that he did wrong."

Pittsburgh court heard the elderly woman showered Fr Cooke with gifts of jewellery, cash and a car while he was a parish priest in St Mary's Church in Sharpsburg, near Pitsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Joe and his family were immediately suspicious when their aunt left Fr Cooke in charge of her estate.

Fr Cooke met Violet Boquet in 1994 in his parish of Sharpsburg.

She had returned to her childhood parish to make her own funeral arrangements.

A court in Pittsburgh was told on Monday that they often had lunch at a local country club.

During their brief friendship Boquet gave Fr Cooke cheques for thousands of dollars, the court was told.

Fr Cooke said he later sold the car and the house he bought.

His statement was taken from a court deposition he made in May 1999.

The prosecution said Ms Boquet became very secretive with her relatives.

And they only found out about her death in a newspaper obituary.

During the old woman's last couple of months alive Fr Cooke was granted power of attorney for her medical matters.

But his handyman Richard Meyers told the jury he refused to buy medication for Ms Boquet before she died.

And he said the priest refused to place her in a nursing home.

Mr Meyers told the court: "Fr Cooke said it cost too much."

Fr Cooke returned to Ireland a few weeks ago and is being cared for by the Holy Ghost Fathers in Kimmage.

A spokesman said: "He is too ill to speak."

The 11 to one jury decision is an advisory ruling and may be set aside by Judge Little at a later date.

Lawyers for the priest and Boquet's family have 10 days to file post-trial motions.
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2001
Words:472
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