By DAVE COLLINS
HARTFORD, Conn. — To onlookers, Monsignor Kevin Wallin’s fall from grace at his Connecticut parish was like something out of “Breaking Bad,” the television series about a high school chemistry teacher who becomes a methamphetamine lord.
The suspended Roman Catholic priest was arrested on federal drug charges this month for allegedly having methamphetamine mailed to him from co-conspirators in California and making more than $300,000 in drugs sales out of his apartment in Waterbury in the second half of last year.
Along the way, authorities said, he bought a small adult video and sex toy shop in the nearby town of North Haven named “Land of Oz & Dorothy’s Place,” apparently to launder all the money he was making. He has pleaded not guilty, and jury selection in his trial is scheduled to begin March 21.
On social media sites, people couldn’t help but compare Wallin with Walter White, the main character on “Breaking Bad” who was making so much cash that he and his wife bought a car wash to launder their profits. He has also been dubbed in some media as “Monsignor Meth.”
Wallin, 61, was the pastor of St. Augustine Parish in Bridgeport for nine years until he resigned in June 2011, citing health and personal problems. He previously served six years as pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Danbury until 2002.
He was granted a sabbatical in July 2011. The Diocese of Bridgeport suspended him from public ministry last May.
Diocesan officials become concerned about Wallin in the spring of 2011 after complaints about his appearance and erratic behavior, diocese spokesman Brian Wallace told the Connecticut Post.
Some reports of his behavior were startling.
“We became aware that he was acting out sexually — with men — in the church rectory,” Wallace told the newspaper, adding that church officials deemed the sexual behavior unbecoming of a priest and asked Wallin to resign.
Wallace didn’t return several messages left by The Associated Press.
“News of Monsignor Kevin Wallin’s arrest comes with a sense of shock and concern on the part of the diocese and the many people of Fairfield County who have known him as a gifted, accomplished and compassionate priest,” the diocese said in a statement on Jan. 16 after learning about Wallin’s arrest. “We ask for prayers for Monsignor Wallin during the difficult days ahead for him.”
Wallin’s arrest called attention to larger problems within the church, said Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport, one of many local chapters of the lay organization formed in response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church.
“Catholics have to ask whether the mandatory obligation of celibacy imposes a harmful burden on priests and whether women ought to be admitted to the priesthood,” the group said in a statement. “The steady decline in the number of priests, the aging of priests, the terrible sin of pedophilia among priests, and the downfall of Monsignor Wallin are all signs of a sickness in the priesthood. It is time to seek a remedy for this awful malady that threatens the Eucharist, the center of Catholic life.”
Elizabeth Badjan, a member of the St. Augustine congregation, told The New York Times that Wallin needed the prayers of parishioners.
“This is all the work of evil,” she said as she left Mass last weekend. “He was not close enough to God. He was tempted by the devil.”
Wallin’s case has drawn comparisons to that of the Rev. Ted Haggard, a well-known evangelical megachurch pastor in Colorado who was forced out of his job in 2006 after a male escort alleged Haggard had paid him for sex and bought crystal meth.
Federal agents arrested Wallin on Jan. 3, and a grand jury indicted him and four other people on drug charges on Jan. 15. All are charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a substance containing methamphetamine and 50 grams of actual methamphetamine, a crime that carries 10 years to life in prison upon conviction.
Wallin is also charged with six counts of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.
Last July, Drug Enforcement Administration agents in New York told agents in the New Haven office that there was an unidentified Connecticut-based drug trafficker distributing methamphetamine in the region. Two months later, an informant told the DEA that the trafficker was Wallin, according to an affidavit by agent Jay Salvatore in New Haven.
The Connecticut Statewide Narcotics Task Force was also investigating Wallin.
Authorities said an undercover officer with the state task force bought methamphetamine from Wallin six times from Sept. 20 to Jan. 2, paying more than $3,400 in total for 23 grams of the drug.
Federal agents also say they learned through wiretaps and informants about other sales Wallin was making.
Connecticut U.S. Attorney David Fein said federal and state authorities worked together in “the dismantling of what we allege was a significant methamphetamine distribution organization that spanned from California to Connecticut.”
Also charged in the case were Kenneth Devries, 52, of Waterbury; Michael Nelson, 40, of Manchester; Chad McCluskey, 43, of San Clemente, Calif.; and Kristen Laschober, 47, of Laguna Niguel, Calif. Authorities say McCluskey and Laschober were involved in the shipping of methamphetamine to Wallin.
Messages by the AP were left lawyers for Wallin, McCluskey and Laschober. Wallin is being detained without bail at the Bridgeport Correctional Center, state records show.