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WESTON, Mo. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Newly obtained emails reveal Michael R. Parrott, owner of Restoring the Faith Media, may have attempted wire fraud and money laundering by asking for financial kickbacks, and may be under federal investigation.
The evidence vindicates Church Militant's reporting on Parrott, who is being sued for defamation after he launched false attacks on this media organization in retaliation for our questioning of his use of donor money.
Parrott, a Catholic podcaster, is best known for launching a fundraiser for Fr. James Jackson, a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), arrested in October for possession and distribution of child porn involving infants, toddlers and bestiality.
While Parrott admitted to having no relationship with the priest, he loudly trumpeted Jackson's cause in November when he launched his crowdfunding campaign, appealing to distressed Catholics who refused to believe such a respected, traditionalist priest could be viewing child porn.
He called his fundraiser "Truth for Fr. James Jackson, FSSP," and ended up raising a total of $146,000.
In a video asking people to donate, he peddled theories that Jackson may have been "framed" by federal agents, who "planted" the evidence, or that Jackson's computer may have been "hacked." No evidence has been offered to substantiate such theories.
He described the goals of his fundraiser thus:
At least 50% of the proceeds will go towards forensic computing and private investigation — the rest to his legal defense. WE ONLY CARE ABOUT THE TRUTH. EVEN IF THE TRUTH IS DIFFICULT TO PROCESS. In an age of political policing, the faithful deserve a 2nd pair of eyes on the evidence.
That "evidence" was widely understood by the public and donors to mean the computer and external hard drive on which the child porn was found — the evidence the U.S. attorney is using to prosecute Fr. Jackson, and the only relevant evidence in this case.
Church Militant has confirmed that those close to Fr. Jackson did not want Parrott to engage in a private investigation of the case and tried to discourage him from doing so. Even so, Parrott hired an investigator to supposedly conduct "forensic computing" and to serve as the "second pair of eyes on the evidence."
But the man he hired, Church Militant has confirmed, is not licensed and has no technical expertise in forensic computing.
Neither did he ever obtain access to the computer or hard drive to conduct any "forensic computing."
And details of the "private investigation" have never been released, six months after Parrott's promises to find the "TRUTH" for Fr. Jackson and give regular updates on the case, leaving donors in the dark.
The investigator himself, Church Militant has confirmed, has recently filed for bankruptcy, in spite of receiving $55,000 of donor money to conduct the Fr. Jackson investigation.
It remains unclear whether the investigator will ever complete his probe or what happened to the $55,000 in donor funds.
The investigator is also refusing to respond to a subpoena to hand over any files on the Fr. Jackson case, which would reveal the work done, if any, in the "private investigation."
While it is protocol for federal agents neither to confirm nor deny current investigations, Church Militant has reason to believe Parrott may be under federal investigation for attempted wire fraud in Rhode Island and Missouri, where he resides.
In addition to $65,000 of donor funds given to Fr. Jackson's attorney, John Calcagni III, Parrott also gave more than $20,000 to Calcagni to hold in escrow, so Parrott could say that "all" of the money had been distributed.
Emails between Parrott and Calcagni, however, show Parrott wanted a kickback: He asked Calcagni to give him $5,950 of donor money for Parrott's personal use, contrary to promises to donors that "100%" would go to Fr. Jackson.
This is illegal and considered a federal crime.
A Jan. 24, 2022 email from Parrott to Jackson's attorney reads:
Because of the anti-Fr. Jackson crazies out there (who are suing me, now) I had to hire a CPA to verify the fundraise and spend. I bargained them down as low as I could for what's called an 'Agreed-Upon Procedures' report, but it will be about $5,950. Would it be possible to pay this from the escrow?
A Jan. 28 email shows Calcagni responding to Parrott's request for a refund: "We need to talk this weekend. It's important."
While the contents of that talk are unknown, Church Militant has confirmed Calcagni refused Parrott's request.
Calcagni, a former federal prosecutor, would have understood the grave legal problems with Parrott's request, and correctly turned down the offer.
According to the law, all donor money must be used for the purpose for which it is originally intended — in this case, half for Fr. Jackson's legal defense and half for "forensic computing and private investigation." None of it may go towards other expenses.
From the April 27 filing:
A subpoena served on another recipient of the raised funds has revealed that, while Mr. Parrott provided this person with some of the money he raised, Mr. Parrott asked that some of the money be kicked back to him. The communications with the donors show (a) Mr. Parrott did not disclose that he was asking for kickbacks from the recipients of the funds; and (b) Mr. Parrott defamed Plaintiffs in an effort to raise funds to defend himself in this case.
Parrott's request that $5,950 of donor money be refunded to him for personal expenses could arguably be considered attempted wire fraud or money laundering, a fact he deliberately kept from donors and the public.
Wire fraud is covered under 18 U.S. Code § 1343, and involves the use of "any scene or artifice to defraud" donors under "false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises ... by means of wire, radio or television communication."
Money laundering is covered under 18 U.S. Code § 1956, and involves the attempt to "conceal or disguise the nature, the location, the source, the ownership or the control of the proceeds of specified unlawful activity ... ."
Church Militant can confirm that complaints of potentially criminal conduct have been filed against Parrott in Rhode Island and Missouri.
Parrott has routinely used Fr. Jackson's name and cause to raise money for himself, after Church Militant sued Parrott for defamation.
It has led to Jackson's family threatening to sue Parrott if he continues to use the priest to raise more money for his personal expenses, a fact Church Militant confirmed with a source close to the family.
In numerous public tweets, Parrott has painted this as a fight for "truth" for Fr. Jackson, rather than what it is: raising money for his personal use. He states that he needs money to pay for his lawsuit as a result of grossly defamatory comments he made against Church Militant, including false accusations that Church Militant committed the crimes of blackmail, extortion and threats to his family. Parrott has offered no proof to substantiate these allegations.
More importantly, Parrott's costs of defending the suit are covered by insurance, a fact he failed to disclose to donors when recently soliciting more money.
Parrott's public statements rely on falsehoods to raise money, including the debunked claim that Church Militant sought donors' "personal information."
This stemmed from Parrott's confusion over the meaning of "payee" and "payor." In one discovery request, Church Militant requested information for each "payee," i.e., financial beneficiary of the donations (namely, Jackson's attorney and the private investigator).
Parrott confused the definition of the term and wrongly accused Church Militant of wanting "payor" information, i.e., donor information — something Church Militant never sought. He used this falsehood to raise more money for his legal expenses.
An email exchange between this reporter and Parrott in November 2021 is prescient:
The vast majority of your comments indicate your belief Fr. Jackson is being framed — a narrative you've used to convince donors to give you their money to help exonerate Fr. Jackson.
Has Fr. Jackson's attorney even agreed to a forensic analysis of the evidence? He is the only one who may make the request for that on behalf of his client — not an outside party disconnected from the case. He is the one who would have the right to that evidence. What makes you think he would hand that evidence to you?
Why would Mr. Calcagni agree to such an audit at all if he thinks it would only confirm his client's guilt, which it will likely do?
You wrote: "Monies used in the pursuit of truth (i.e., the independent review which I intend to conduct), or paid towards Fr. Jackson's legal bills, will not be refunded."
What qualifications do you have to conduct an "independent review"? Are you a licensed investigator?
What would be the use of an independent investigation if Fr. Jackson pleads guilty or no contest? What is there to investigate?
Have you made clear to all of your donors publicly on the fundraising page (not in a series of tweets on Twitter, which the vast majority of donors do not even read) that the option of a refund is available?
In response to Parrott's claim that he is "trying to do a good thing with respect to Fr. Jackson," this reporter noted, "[T]hat is precisely what is in question":
The public deserves to know what will happen to the money.
If you refund all the money now — every penny — we'd be glad to hold off on any public report on you or your financial dealings.
If you intend on keeping any portion of the money, then there is no guarantee.
While Parrott has falsely used this exchange to show "blackmail," the evidence now vindicates Church Militant's line of questioning. As suspected, Parrott did indeed attempt to use donor money for personal use. The use of donations for the "private investigation" has also not been accounted for.
There is also evidence Parrott is personally benefiting from another questionable fundraiser, which may be "the subject of a federal criminal complaint."
Martin Navarro, a self-proclaimed "Augustinian monk" who refers to himself as "Brother Martin," raised $175,000 under the guise of "purchasing a new monastery" for his "growing community" — the Oblates of St. Augustine, a nonprofit formerly registered in Florida.
Church Militant has since confirmed Navarro is not a monk in any recognized religious community, a fact confirmed by his former religious community and by the archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, where Navarro used to reside.
Church Militant has also confirmed his community consists only of himself. His charity, registered in Florida, was also out of compliance with Florida's bylaws.
And Navarro's charity is not registered in Missouri, even as he continues to raise money in Missouri — in violation of the law.
Church Militant has also confirmed that none of the donations have been used toward "purchasing" a monastery, as originally stated. Rather, Navarro has admitted that "all" of the donations will be used toward "renovating" Parrott's property, resulting in financial enrichment to Parrott, as it will raise the value of his property.
While he has leased the property to Navarro, Parrott retains full ownership and has the power to evict Navarro at any time.
Navarro's May 2021 fundraising video bore the logo of Restoring the Faith Media, showing collaboration with Parrott. Neither Parrott nor Navarro revealed at the time, nor in the following seven months, their plan that Navarro renovate and live in one of Parrott's homes and call that his "monastery."
In August 2021, Parrott paid more than $600,000 cash for two properties with four buildings in Missouri, and intended that Navarro live there.
Parrott is attempting to keep from the public his short-form lease with Navarro.
"Plaintiffs are informed and therefore believe that the Oblates' fundraising scheme is the subject of a criminal complaint," reads Church Militant's April 27 court filing requesting that the lease not be allowed to remain confidential. "The lease is evidence of Mr. Parrott's fraud. Mr. Parrott should not be able to hide his fraud behind the PO [protective order]."
The FBI warns, "Charity fraud schemes seek donations for organizations that do little or no work — instead, the money goes to the fake charity’s creator."
"While these scams can happen at any time, they are especially prevalent after high-profile disasters," the FBI notes.
Riding the wave of Catholics' emotions after the "high-profile disaster" of Fr. Jackson's arrest, Parrott raised a great deal of money — and then tried to get a kickback from Jackson's attorney. He falsely framed his fundraiser as a "fight" for "truth" for Jackson when in fact it was his attempt to cover personal costs incurred as a result of his retaliation against a media organization trying to get to the bottom of his financial schemes.