Diocesan News

NYPD Seeks Man Who Said He Was a Priest & Allegedly Stole $900 from Queens Pastor

NYPD investigators seek the man on the left in connection with the burglary Sunday at American Martyrs Parish in Bayside. (Photo: NYPD) The man on the right was caught on video surveillance last year at a Catholic church in Houston where, police believe, he stole cash. He reportedly identified himself as “Father Martin visiting from Chicago” and is suspected of similar crimes throughout the U.S. (Photo: Currents News)

BAYSIDE — “Slick” and “polished” is how Father Peter Rayder described the “fake priest” suspected of stealing $900 on March 3 from American Martyrs Parish in Queens.

The man matches the description of a perpetrator seen on surveillance video at other church burglary sites throughout the nation. Included is a botched burglary last October at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Brooklyn.

Each time, witnesses described a bald, bearded, middle-aged man wearing dark priestly attire. He has no clerical collar, but he always says he is a priest.

On Friday, March 1, a man matching the description tried unsuccessfully to enter doorways at the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville on Long Island, said Suffolk County Police.


Father Rayder, pastor of American Martyrs, said the man appeared moments before the 12:30 p.m. Sunday Mass on March 3. The church is at 79-43 Bell Blvd. in Bayside.

Msgr. Edward Doran, a retired priest who helps on Sunday, was preparing to celebrate Mass when the man entered and identified himself as a visiting priest.

The monsignor told Father Rayder details of his brief conversation with the man.

“He said, ‘I spoke to Father Peter — I’m staying in the rectory — but I need access to get my alb to concelebrate Mass,’” Father Rayder said.

Msgr. Doran opened the door for the man, and continued preparing for Mass, the pastor said.

Meanwhile, Father Rayder was having coffee with Deacon Stanley Galazin in the rectory kitchen, but the man snuck in without them noticing.

“He went right upstairs,” Father Rayder said. “And he was in the rectory for quite a lot (of time).”

Later, Msgr. Doran called to say he had assisted the visiting priest, but Father Rayder knew nothing of this “house guest.”

He deplored how the fake priest took advantage of Msgr. Doran, whose contributions on Sundays are vital for the parish.

“He somehow knew that 10 minutes before Mass starts is when priests are kind of vulnerable,” Father Rayder said. “They’re preparing their minds for Mass.”

The pastor said he spotted the man and spoke with him briefly.

“I walk out with Deacon Stan, and there he is, getting ready to leave,” he said.

Father Rayder said he reminded the “priest” that he needed a “letter of suitability” from his parish or diocese to concelebrate Mass — which all priests know.

“That was very unusual,” Father Rayder noted. “He said, ‘Oh, I have one in my car; I’ll go get it.’ Of course, he went and never came back.”

At about 3 p.m., Father Rayder noticed $900 cash missing from his room.

New York City Police Department investigators said the man was last seen driving away, south on Bell Boulevard, in a dark-colored sedan.

“He was very slick,” Father Rayder said. “And he was polished. He knew my name. He knew the Mass schedule.

“He obviously did his homework.”


A similar incident happened Oct. 1, 2023, at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in the Flatlands area of Brooklyn. 

But this time, the burglar didn’t get past a teenage sacristan.

Father Dwayne Davis, the pastor, said a man matching the same description came to the sacristy between Masses and claimed he was a visiting priest.

He said he left his keys in the rectory, so he needed access. But the sacristan felt uneasy, so he texted Father Davis. “He didn’t sense that he was a priest,” the pastor said.

Knowing he had no visiting priests, Father Davis rushed back to the church, but the man was gone.

Father Davis immediately checked footage from security cameras which showed the man moving about the parish.

“He went to the backdoor rectory and pulled on it,” Father Davis said. “He wasn’t going to get in, and that’s when he went to the sacristy.”

The sacristan’s response impressed Father Davis, who declined to give his name because he is a minor.

“My sacristan was prudent, and he responded really well,” Father Davis said. “I’m very grateful for him because if not, things could’ve gone really bad.”


A man — same appearance, clothing, and claims of being a priest — arrived at about 5 p.m. March 1 at the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville’s Motherhouse at 555 Albany Ave., Amityville.

Spokespersons for the police and the sisters said the man said he wanted to go into the chapel and pray while waiting for a friend.

He got past the reception desk and went to an apartment building and knocked on the door. Police said a sister answered but didn’t recognize the man so she slammed the door.

The sister then alerted reception, said Lena Pennino-Smith, spokeswoman for the sisters.

The man was on the property for about an hour, but no one was hurt and nothing was missing, police said.

That incident produced another set of surveillance photos, prompting people on Long Island, Queens, and Brooklyn to compare notes.

Father Rayder said the response is always the same — “That’s the guy!”

“There’s nothing else I can do,” he added. “We just hope he gets caught and does his penance. And then, I forgive him. No big deal.

“But everything’s got to match — you can’t give any forgiveness if the person doesn’t do their penance.”

Houston, Other Points West

A few weeks after the encounter at his parish, Father Davis saw reports in the Catholic media about a priest imposter trying to steal from church property across the U.S.

Security camera images resembled the man the sacristan faced on Oct. 1.

“I texted them to the sacristan, and he said, ‘That’s the guy!’” Father Davis recalled. “I couldn’t imagine somebody coming to rob me, and it was gonna be a serial robber crossing the country.”

Last November, Currents News reported how a bald, bearded man similarly gained entry to St. Thomas More Parish in Houston.

He told people at the Houston church that his name was “Father Martin, a visiting priest from Chicago.”

The man claimed he’d left his keys in the priests’ residence to sneak past a church staffer.

Once inside, Houston police said, he stole cash from the rooms of the rectory.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston issued a security alert for the man who was also “on the radar of Dallas police and has warrants out in California and Pennsylvania.”

NYPD investigators said the man seen at American Martyrs on March 3 had a light complexion, appeared to be about 45-55 years old, 190 pounds, and 5-feet-9-inches tall. He was last seen wearing a blue suit with black shoes. 

Investigators urged anyone with information to call the Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477), or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782). 

People can also share their information on the CrimeStoppers website: crimestoppers.nypdonline.org, or on X @NYPDTips.  

Tipsters may be eligible for a reward up to $3,500. All information shared is confidential, the NYPD said.  

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