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Priest sought riches online as Jerry from Philly

PHILADELPHIA – A Roman Catholic priest suspended after federal agents seized a computer from his inner-city rectory has long sought riches online, where he sports a tuxedo and calls himself “Jerry from Philly.”

The Rev. Geraldo Pinero endorses several so-called multilevel marketing companies on Facebook, blogs and other online posts that include his real name, photo and parish address.

The 46-year-old pastor also appears, sans religious collar, wearing a sweater or velvet blazer and talking about his goal of earning “extra income on the side.” He promises recruits they can make thousands of dollars a month selling candles or life coaching or other services.

“Many folks are struggling financially during these very difficult economic times. This is why I have gotten involved in some unique, legit and effective money making programs – to help us get out of this awful financial rut,” Pinero said in hawking the candles.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia bans priests from such secular work, spokeswoman Donna Farrell said. Officials at the archdiocese were unaware of Pinero’s online activities, she said.

The Federal Communications Commission has warned that some multilevel or “network” marketing plans, which offer commissions for signing up other sellers, are dubious pyramid schemes.

None of the companies that Pinero endorsed have been charged with wrongdoing by the FCC, spokeswoman Elizabeth Lordan said Tuesday.

Pinero did not return e-mail messages this week seeking comment, and a brother in Philadelphia declined to comment on the raid.

Pinero leads the Incarnation of Our Lord parish in North Philadelphia, where Masses are said in English, Spanish, Creole and Portuguese, and the welcome sign boasts: “where the world meets.”

Parishioners, many elderly, speak warmly of Pinero as a hardworking, devoted pastor known as Father Jerry. The church’s ministries include a busy food pantry, outreach to Haitian Catholics and nursing and senior services.

“I am looking forward to great things in 2010,” Pinero wrote on his blog, endorsing one of the get-rich strategies, “along with good people to share them with.”

On Nov. 16, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents descended on the church rectory, leaving with a computer. To thwart fears of a parish-related immigration raid, ICE spokesman Mark Medvesky disclosed that the investigation was a criminal matter unrelated to anyone’s immigration status.

The enforcement division’s work includes drug crimes, cybercrimes, overseas sex tourism, child pornography and child exploitation.

Pinero stepped down after the raid “for the good of the parish pending the outcome of this investigation,” the archdiocese said in a statement. Parishioners were told at Mass that he is on a “much-needed spiritual retreat.”

Pinero, a U.S. citizen, was born into a Puerto Rican family in Brooklyn and raised in Philadelphia. He worked at Incarnation from 1991 to 1997 before taking a three-year leave of absence, residing during the break at church facilities in Philadelphia. Farrell declined to comment Tuesday on the reason for the leave, calling it a personnel matter.

Pinero went to a suburban parish in 2000 and returned to Incarnation in 2003, where he became pastor the following year.