Independent bishop Pat Buckley has received a suspended prison sentence for conducting 14 sham marriages.
Belfast Crown Court heard that the controversial Larne cleric helped Bangladeshi men marry Portuguese women in contravention of immigration laws. He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years, suspended for three years.
The judge, Mr Justice Mark Horner, said Buckley - who had admitted the charges - was an important cog in the wheel of the conspiracy, but suspended the prison sentence after hearing his long list of medical problems - including treatment for HIV.
Mr Justice Horner told the defendant: “What you did was wrong. You committed a series of serious crimes, which you did for financial reward.”
The judge said Buckley had lost his hard-won reputation as a defender of the outsider and those shunned by society, which was bound to have hit him hard.
The offences were committed between May, 2008 and September, 2009.
It was said that Buckley was paid a fee of between £300 and £350 per ceremony, at a time when he was experiencing financial difficulties.
The offences were committed after a television documentary on sham marriages and the judge said it must have been blindingly obvious what he was participating in. They were ceremonies between EU and non-EU nationals who were seeking residency.
The judge said: “The crimes to which you pleaded guilty are not victimless crimes, nor do they constitute technical infringements of the criminal law.”