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Maplewood police close case against Oakdale priest
Guardian Angels Rev. Rodger Bauman apologizes for accepting $120,000 from elderly former parishioner
Maplewood police reports include the following timeline of the Dziengel-Bauman transaction:
The statute in question, 609.2335, outlines what constitutes financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult. Charges could be filed under the statute in two basic scenarios:
Nearly two years after a priest at an Oakdale Catholic church accepted a $120,000 check from an elderly man, the Maplewood Police Department ended the criminal investigation against him where no charges were ever filed.
The Rev. Rodger Bauman received the check from former parishioner Louis Dziengel in December 2011. Dziengel was 99 and living in a senior care facility at the time. He has since died.
The woman who was Dziengel’s power of attorney discovered he wrote the check in January of last year. The senior housing staff then called Maplewood police to investigate possible swindling.
Later that spring, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi declined to pursue charges against Bauman, citing a lack of evidence he broke any laws even though Dziengel was legally a vulnerable adult.
Maplewood police continued investigating this year, but didn’t find evidence to support charges and closed the case in October.
Bauman, 59, the pastor at Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale since July of 2011, called the check a gift and eventually sent the money back.
After the case file was made public recently, Bauman addressed the matter with parishioners at each service the weekend of Nov. 16, and offered to answer their questions afterwards.
“I acknowledged that I did not apply the best judgment to the situation and truly apologize to the family and others,” Bauman wrote in an emailed response to the Review.
“The matter was resolved shortly after it occurred (nearly two years ago) as I spoke with the family and returned the money to them,” Bauman said.
There hasn’t been much reaction among parishioners, according to parish administrator Denny Farrell.
“There has been no negative feedback that I’m aware of, and I would know. I’m usually the lightning rod,” he said. “I attribute it to the fact that he was very open to anyone and answered any questions they had.”
After the information became public, he said, the church’s trustees discussed a plan on how to address it. According to Farrell, Bauman wanted to say something at each of the four Masses the following weekend.
“There was no reason to bring it up prior to that because there was no knowledge of it and there were not charges filed,” he said.
Farrell added that the case was a “non-issue” for the parish, and it would be unfair to lump it together with other recent controversies involving priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“It’s unfortunate that it was tied to the Archdiocese stories that went out,” Farrell said.
Dziengel lived in a Maplewood assisted-living complex since December of 2010 with his long-time girlfriend, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. According to police information, he could live independently but could not care for the girlfriend at the time they moved to the facility.
According to an obituary, Dziengel was a World War II veteran and a prisoner of war in Germany, and received a Purple Heart.
Bauman was the priest at St. Mary of the Lake in White Bear Lake when Dziengel was a parishioner there.
According to the woman with his power of attorney, around the time the check was written, Dec. 2, 2011, Dziengel usually carried around two checks for spending money in his wallet.
She told police Dziengel’s health declined significantly in the last half of 2011, and he didn’t remember many decisions he made. He handed over his billfold and checks to her in January of 2012.
Dziengel reportedly told police in two January interviews that the pastor planned to use the money to start a new church, but also said repeatedly that Bauman wasn’t supposed to cash the check.
In later conversations, Dziengel told police a portion of the check was supposed to go to Bauman, and the rest to other charities.
Records show the priest waited about two weeks to put the money into his personal account. The next day, he wrote eight checks, totaling $40,000. Seven of the eight recipients had the last name Bauman, according to police reports.
In the police interviews, Dziengel reportedly exhibited disorientation and difficulty concentrating. He couldn’t recall the correct year or day of the week. Asked about the amount on the check and if he meant it all to go to Bauman, he reportedly responded that he “shouldn’t have put all those zeroes on the check” and then, when pressed on whether he appreciated what a large sum $50,000 was, responded “just throw it all away.”
A physician’s report, following a series of cognitive tests as part of the investigation, said the result “suggests significant cognitive impairment in memory, attention, and executive functioning.” The physician suggested that Dziengel’s current access to his entire checking account be changed, noting “a separate account with a smaller balance might be set up to reduce the risk of the residents being defrauded of large sums of money.”
The physician also wrote that Dziengel might want to donate money, but his intent should be longstanding and clear. “A person with dementia may still have the ability to make such a decision if the resident is consistently able to state what is wanted (and) if the decision appears to be consistent with previous behavior.”
Dziengel died April 6, 2012.
Not the first monetary gift
It wasn’t the first time Dziengel gave Bauman money. According to the five years of bank records Maplewood police examined, Dziengel wrote more than a dozen checks to Bauman from 2007 to 2010, in amounts from $50 to $500. All the checks were cashed and deposited into Bauman’s personal account.
When Maplewood police contacted Bauman to ask questions about the $120,000 check, Bauman told police that he sent it back that day. The woman with power of attorney told police she received the check and a signed note.
“I apologize for my confusion,” said the note, which was included in police reports. “If there is anything I can do for [redacted name], please do not hesitate to let me know.”
Records accessed by police show Bauman’s annual salary is around $23,000.
No charges filed
The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office determined in March of 2012 the case couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in court.
Attorney’s office spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein explained that the case would have hinged on whether Bauman exploited “undue influence” under the law or was given the check willingly (see sidebar).
“Based on the available evidence, we would not be able to prove that Father Bauman’s conduct violated the applicable criminal statute,” Gerhardstein said.
It did not meet either aspect of the law, Gerhardstein explained.
“There did not appear to be a fiduciary relationship between Bauman and the party who issued the check; therefore, we would have to prove that Bauman exercised ‘undue influence’ to obtain the check,” he said. “Since Bauman and the check writer were the only two parties present when the check was issued, our evidence falls short of meeting that standard.”
It was difficult to move the case forward, according to Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell, in part due to Dziengel’s uncertain mental capacity during the transaction, his death and the fact that loved ones did not push for charges to be filed.
Despite the county’s unwillingness to charge, Schnell said he stands by his department’s determination to continue investigating.
“The conduct is highly concerning,” he said. “From a law-enforcement standpoint, we believe we absolutely proved the case ... that it rose to the elements of the crime.”
But, he said, he also understands Choi’s reluctance to press forward.
“There’s a difference between that level and that of prosecution and proving it to a jury.”
‘Nothing to hide’
During a conversation with police the same day he sent the money back, Bauman reportedly expressed reservations about the investigation, saying “I feel I have nothing to hide ... as much as I want to trust the whole process ... I guess at this point in time I don’t have that kind of confidence.”
Shortly after police contacted Bauman to meet to discuss the check, Andrew Eisenzimmer, the former chancellor for civil affairs of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, called the lead investigator.
The investigator asked Eisenzimmer in what conditions the church would allow a priest to accept a $120,000 check and deposit it into a personal acccount.
The investigator wrote in his report that Eisenzimmer “was unable to answer that other than to say some of the priests retire/die as very wealthy men.”
Eisenzimmer added that some priests have been given cash or a vehicle.
The Archdiocese could not say much about the case, as it is a personnel matter, according to spokesman Jim Accurso.
“Fr. Bauman acknowledged his poor judgment in the situation,” a statement said. “The police did not find criminal wrongdoing and the money was returned.”