A Roman Catholic priest has been sentenced to two years of probation after admitting he tried to shoplift an ashtray

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest has been sentenced to two years of probation after admitting he tried to shoplift an ashtray from an Illinois antique store while on probation for pilfering butter and a sofa cover.

The Rev. Steven Poole, who pleaded guilty but mentally ill to a misdemeanor charge of retail theft on Thursday, also was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and complete any recommended treatment. Failing to comply could mean a year in the St. Clair County jail in Illinois.

Poole, 43, had faced a felony theft charge after his arrest late last year “to get this man’s attention” as a repeat offender, the county’s top prosecutor said Friday.

“I think that by taking that aggressive approach, it gets to the root of the problem — his really profound mental health issues,” Brendan Kelly added. “This is an opportunity to use the judicial system to keep the pressure on and encourage the defendant and his support system in the church to make sure he complies.”

Poole’s latest run-in with the law came in November, when police say he walked out of Keil’s Antiques and Gifts in Belleville, Ill., with a green ashtray. The store’s owner and another employee followed Poole’s PT Cruiser and then summoned officers, who arrested the clergyman.

Poole pleaded guilty in March 2011 in Illinois’ Franklin County to retail theft charges and was sentenced to two years of probation for trying to make off with $3.22 worth of butter and a $60 sofa cover he failed to scan at a Walmart’s self-service checkout. Police also said Poole changed a price tag bar code on a memory-foam mattress from $144.88 to $30.88 to get the lower price.

Store workers detained him at the scene and called police, who found Poole also had a laptop computer power pack allegedly taken from the store.

Poole also received probation and was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service a decade ago on a felony theft case related to his making off with a 5-foot-long, 19th-century English tavern sign depicting a boxer and valued at $900 from an antiques shop in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue. Poole went on leave and pledged to seek counseling, blaming that theft on emotional distress brought on by his mother’s death.

In 2001, Poole pleaded guilty in Illinois’ Clinton County to reduced charges related to a bogus police report in which he claimed to have been beaten and robbed at a church by a stranger who showed up for confession. As part of a deal with prosecutors, Poole was sentenced to six months of court supervision and a $100 fine.

In the latest case, the Belleville antique shop’s owner said he was well-acquainted with Poole, who he said frequented his store and had already bought a $250 swordfish, a Falstaff beer sign and a Christmas tree crafted of feathers.

Poole, ordained in June 1996, has served in various parishes in southern Illinois.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Belleville, which serves 100,000 Catholics in Illinois’ 28 southernmost counties, told the Belleville News-Democrat he welcomed a resolution to the ashtray theft, believing “the judge’s ruling further supports an opportunity for both justice and, we pray, healing.”

“Please know that Father Poole has been receiving and continues to receive the professional assistance that he himself has sought and that (Bishop Edward Braxton) has required of him,” the Rev. John Myler added.

A message left Friday with Poole’s attorney, John O’Gara, was not immediately returned.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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