Rev. Geraldo Pinero, Phila. Pastor, Steps Down Amid Federal Investigation

Philadelphia Pastor Rev. Geraldo Pinero Resigns Amidst Federal Investigation
Rev. Geraldo Pinero (CBS Affiliate KYW)

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) Philadelphia Archdiocese officials say a Roman Catholic priest has resigned amid allegations that he endorsed so-called online multilevel marketing companies, which promised his recruits "extra income on the side."

Federal agents seized a computer from Rev. Geraldo Pinero's inner-city rectory Tuesday after learning that the 46-year-old pastor was posing in a tuxedo, sans religious collar, and referring to himself as "Jerry from Philly."

Pinero, pastor at Incarnation of Our Lord Parish, has long sought riches online. He  appears on Facebook, blogs and other online posts which include his real name, photo, and parish address, wearing a sweater or velvet blazer and talking about his goals of earning extra cash.

He goes on to promise those who visit his sites that they, too, can make thousands of dollars a month selling candles, life coaching, or performing a variety of 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, adding they were unaware of Pinero's online activities, and took immediate action once they discovered his forbidden secular undertakings.

Although none of the companies that Pinero endorsed have been charged with any wrongdoing, the Federal Communications Commission has warned consumers that some multilevel or "network" marketing plans, which offer commissions for signing up other sellers, are dubious pyramid schemes.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the church rectory Nov. 16, leaving with the computer.

In a statement, the archdiocese said Pinero decided to step down from his post "for the good the parish" pending the outcome of the investigation.

Parishioners, many of them elderly and who speak warmly of Pinero as a hardworking, devoted pastor known as Father Jerry, were told at Mass that he is on a "much-needed spiritual retreat."