NORTH PALM BEACH —
A Catholic priest has left his job at St. Clare parish, pending the outcome of two shoplifting charges against him.
In a letter to parishioners dated June 30, the Rev. Giuseppe Savaia, 43, wrote, "As some of you are aware, two accusations of shoplifting have been made against me for which I maintain my innocence. Both incidents occurred in December 2011. I was taken into custody for one in December and not even aware of the other until this week at which time I voluntarily surrendered myself. That is why my name again appeared on the police record this week. I apologize to the Parish of St. Clare for the embarrassment and confusion this has caused.
"At the request of the Bishop, I am taking time away to tend to personal duress as well as to comply with the proper legal process in establishing my innocence. I ask for your prayers and understanding. Know of my prayers for all of you."
A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Palm Beach confirmed that Savaia took time off to deal with the two cases.
Savaia is charged with two different shoplifting attempts: On Dec. 9, he is alleged to have hidden an $895 Jay Strongwater picture frame under his jacket and left the store. Neiman Marcus put up a flyer with a photo of Savaia and circulated it at nearby stores. There was no mention in the police report that he was a priest, and he was not wearing a clerical collar in his jail mugshot.
Then six days later, on Dec. 15, 2011, Savaia was caught on surveillance video with two Italian coats, valued at about $400 each, at Neiman Marcus Last Call at Sawgrass Mills outlet mall in Sunrise. He was arrested in the parking lot. A member of Neiman Marcus's loss prevention staff contacted Boca Raton police the same day, saying that the suspect in the Sunrise case matched the description of the suspect in the Boca Raton case. In both cases, he was charged with grand theft. Savaia is scheduled to be arraigned in Palm Beach County Court on Aug. 23. The Sawgrass Mills case is pending in Broward County Court, with a hearing scheduled for Aug. 24.
Savaia, who was born in Rome, Italy, lives in a gated community in Delray Beach. The entrance to his door is lined with orchids and potted kitchen herbs.
In 2010, Savaia had a dispute with a neighbor. Savaia claimed that the neighbor pointed a gun at him after Savaia complained that the neighbor's dog was going on Savaia's lawn. He also said the neighbor's dog bit him. Savaia's request for an injunction against the neighbor was denied by a Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge for insufficient evidence.
Savaia did not respond to several requests for an interview.