Black Collar CrimesClergy Crimes

February –
May 1998

M – Z

  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin



    PORTLAND — The Diocese of Portland has apologized in writing to those sexually abused by its priests. The ad appeared in the Portland Press Herald. But victims consider the apology a joke. It makes reference to a challenge issued by Pope John Paul to acknowledge the church's mistakes. It never mentions that the diocese was required to make the public apology as part of an out-of-court settlement with a man who claimed he'd been molested by a priest.

    Bishop Joseph Gerry's apology the following night at a service of healing and reconciliation at the cathedral for the actions of Fr. Raymond Lauzon and others also left victims unimpressed. "Diocesan officials seemed downright bewildered" by their response, a report said. (4/22)

    BATH — A judge altered the sentence of a church volunteer who pleaded guilty to sexually molesting boys, because it violated an agreement made with prosecutors. Erich Pfiel originally pleaded guilty as part of the deal and will still stay in prison for 7 years and be on parole for at least 10 years afterward. (3/10)



    BOSTON - The rape conviction of a former priest has been upheld by the state Appeals Court. The court upheld John Hanlon's conviction stating the trial judge had "determined that the evidence showed a unique scheme, pursued for about a decade, to isolate and rape altar boys whose families had close ties to the Catholic church and to the defendant."

    Hanlon served as pastor in several small towns. He was convicted in 1994 of raping an altar boy at his vacation home and sentenced to three life terms. (5/22)

    WORCESTER — Attorneys representing a man who filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Worcester have charged the diocese and its lawyers with obstructive behavior in relation to the case.
    In a 61-page document accompanying a motion that asks the court for a default judgement against the diocese — the most severe sanction that can be imposed — the lawyers allege church officials and representatives withheld, tampered with or destroyed vital evidence, including concealing the identities and whereabouts of important witnesses and providing false and deliberately incomplete information.

    The diocese and its lawyers are alleged to have tried to suppress a key study done by a psychiatrist that dealt with the issues of pedophilia. The psychiatrist was associated with the now-defunct scandal-ridden House of Affirmation, a treatment facility established in the early 1970s by the diocese for priests and religious with emotional and "psycho-spiritual" disorders. It closed in 1986.

    The diocese is accused of concealing the whereabouts of the House's former executive director, Fr. Thomas Kane, who is himself accused of engaging in sexual and financial misconduct while in charge of the center.

    The suit itself alleges that Fr. Brendan O'Donoghue twice raped a 13-year-old boy in 1978. It claims that O'Donoghue had been accused on two previous occasions. He was transferred 12 times during his first 15 years in the diocese, which even now-deceased Bishop Timothy Harrington testified was an "unusual" amount. Fr. Peter Inzerillo also allegedly sexually abused the plaintiff when he went to him for counseling several years later. (4/23)



    CASSOPOLIS — A United Church of Christ minister convicted of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl was to remain free on bond pending sentencing scheduled for March 27.

    John Charles Yeager, 52, who was also an administrator at an Indiana center for abused children, was convicted by jury of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was found guilty of molesting the girl while he, the girl, and his own daughter of the same age, were under a blanket on a couch in his basement in August 1996. That daughter and at least two of his other 3 daughters, which he has been raising alone since his wife died in 1987, have publicly supported him.

    As of publication time, it is not known what sentence was handed him. (3/4)



    OMAHA — Fr. Daniel Herek, 52, pleaded not guilty to charges of sexually assaulting a child and making child pornography. He was arrested after turning himself in to the police after returning from St. Luke's treatment center in Suitland, MD. He had been sent there last May after a cleaning woman found pornographic material inside his rectory that contained two photos and a video involving a boy in the parish.

    He was released without bond; however, he is not allowed to have contact with the boy or unsupervised contact with any child. (2/14)



    FREEHOLD — A former Episcopal priest was convicted of sexual assault charges involving three teen males and one adult between 1991 and 1995.

    Charles Mitzenius, 60, was found guilty by a jury which had deliberated a little more than a day. The victims testified during the trial that Mitzenius showed them sexually-explicit movies and offered counseling, gifts and trips in exchange for sexual contact.

    Mitzenius was scheduled to be sentenced in late May. He faces between 61/2 and 361/2 years in prison. (3/12)

    TOMS RIVER — Fr. Peter Osinski, 55, a former high school principal, pleaded guilty to charges that he molested a boy on a dozen occasions over a seven-year period. Immediately relieved of his duties following his arrest last fall, he now faces 5 to 10 years in prison. He will first be evaluated at a residential treatment program for troubled clerics in Pennsylvania to see if he can be rehabilitated. (3/12)



    SANTA FE — After a month-long battle with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe over control of an old shrine, Fr. Bill Sanchez has apologized to the archbishop. Sanchez has also accepted a new assignment as pastor of a parish in Mountanair. Sheehan says he restored authority as a priest to Sanchez, who had apologized for the misunderstandings that had arisen over his pastorship at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Santa Fe. Sanchez takes up his new post on in mid-May. (4/5)

    ALBUQUERQUE — Since taking over the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in the wake of the resignation of disgraced former-Archbishop Robert Sanchez, current-Archbishop Michael Sheehan claims he has removed 20 priests and settled 165 clergy sex-abuse cases, leaving the archdiocese nearly broke.
    Sanchez resigned when three women accused him of sexual misconduct on the TV newsmagazine 60 Minutes. "It was like Chernobyl on the Rio Grande," Sanchez' successor, the one-time rector who admitted Rudy Kos into the seminary, said.

    Settlements so far are estimated at $50 million, some of which was raised by parish drives and by selling off the Dominican Retreat House, which many victims and survivors had felt to be the only safe place within the Church to discuss their abuse.

    Church officials blame the large number of cases in part on the Servants of the Paraclete treatment center in Jemez Springs (now renamed the "Fitzgerald Conference and Retreat Center"). Pedophile priests from all over the country were sent there for therapy. Some were lent out as supply priests on weekends while during treatment and abused altar boys, and many were reassigned to New Mexico parishes once they had completed the program and continued to molest children in their new positions.

    However, portions of another deposition by Sanchez that were released confirmed what the earlier depositions had established, that the Archdiocese had long covered up the sexual molestation of children by some of its clergy, due, in part at least, to Sanchez' own affairs with women. Sanchez admitted he had sexual contact with women for at least 18 years, continuing even as archbishop, before his resignation.

    The document indicated that Sanchez kept the lid on the sex-abuse charges as long as he could, fearing they would plunge parishes into "scandal" and "division". He also claimed not to have known that sexual abuse was a crime.

    The new document showed that in two of the cases where he responded to allegations with denial and transferred the accused priest, the priest preyed upon more young victims.

    However, the former archbishop has been punished with a sentence any Catholic schoolboy would dread: for the last several years, he is believed to have been working as a farmhand for nuns in Minnesota. (3/22)

    BERNALILLO — A man who killed a retired priest with a rock after he was picked up hitchhiking has been sentenced to 50 years in prison.

    Dennis Carabajal, 38, had recently finished serving time on an assault conviction when he met up with Fr. Armando Martinez, 62 a year ago. He attacked Martinez in the Jemez mountains some 20 miles up the highway from the Servants of the Paraclete treatment center. Martinez had previously spent time there, being relieved of his duties in 1993 after accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor and retiring the following year.

    Carabajal had stated after his arrest that he had awoken in the car to find Martinez fondling him. In the course of the attack Martinez tried to flag down two cars but Carabajal scared them off, claiming the terrified priest was drunk. He then killed Martinez and stripped his body. (3/2)



    NEW YORK CITY — A Manhattan judge has declined to hold the Episcopal Diocese or Trintity Church Retreat civilly liable to a man who was allegedly sexually assaulted by one of the retreat's priests. Judge John Koeltl found no merit to claims that the church should be held responsible for Fr. Masud Syedullah's alleged sexual assaults on a former parishioner of his from Oklahoma. The judge did allow the plaintiff to proceed against Syedullah on the claims of assault and battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (2/27)

    ALBANY — Fire destroyed the property a man bought with $70,000 he received from the Albany Diocese after claiming he was abused by priest as a child.

    Fr. David Bentley, 55, has been suspended in the aftermath of the settlement, which was paid in late 1997 after Thomas Oathout brought his complaint to the diocese. Bentley has never been a parish priest but did serve as a hospital chaplain, a diocese spokesman said.

    With Oathout going public in violation of a confidentiality agreement, it remains unclear what action, if any, the diocese may take. While Burke said there is no legal action under discussion, he did not rule it out. He said the entire policy of handling such complaints is likely to be reviewed.

    While the diocese will not discuss Oathout's claims in detail or say to what degree it admitted if any abuse occurred, the spokesman acknowledged: "There were some boundary issues that had been crossed." Oathout went public early the month before with his claim that had been abused in the late 1970s when he was living at the Albany Home for Children, now the Parsons Child and Family Center.

    The diocese acknowledged giving him the payment in a lump sum, which Oathout said he quickly spent on cars and household goods, leaving him so short of cash that he had approached the church again and asked for help.

    Many of those items were destroyed in the fire, along with his Persian cat, according to family and friends.

    The blaze apparently started in his second-floor apartment and quickly spread to a first-floor unit, sending six people in the building fleeing into the street, according to Watervliet fire officials. No serious injuries were reported, although one person was hospitalized. The fire was "fully involved" by the time firefighters arrived and is under investigation as a matter of routine, but was thought to have an electrical cause. Albany Times, 3/2/98, 2/14



    BOONE — A couple has sued a Charlotte priest, alleging he molested their two sons when they served as altar boys from 1991 to 1995. No criminal charges have been filed against Fr. Damion Lynch, who was assigned to a parish in Boone during those years. His attorney called the lawsuit "groundless."

    Also named are Bishop William Curlin and the Diocese of Charlotte. The lawsuit alleges Lynch became close to the family, then molested the boys "on a repeated basis." Despite the statement by Lynch's attorney, an article in the diocesan paper said Lynch reported "an indiscretion" to Curlin in 1995. By June 1996, the article said, Curlin thought he had "resolved the matter" with the family. Lynch was reassigned to a parish in Charlotte in 1997, but asked Curlin for a leave from the ministry in February. (3/29)



    CHANDLER — A retired judge has been charged with sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl who was an altar server at the church where he has served as a deacon for the last 18 years.

    Robert L. Foster, 72, is alleged to have molested the girl and tried to talk her into letting him take pictures of her breasts while the girl and her younger sister were staying overnight at his house. The girl refused, but said Foster told her he had photographed other girls before. Deputies searched the house and found pictures, but they did not appear to be pornographic. (5/23)

    MEDFORD — A Catholic priest was to return to court in May for a bond hearing after pleading innocent to charges of raping two Medford nursing home residents. Fr. Michael Hughes, 71, bond hearing was scheduled May 11. Hughes was charged last December with one count of first-degree rape by instrumentation and one count of second-degree rape by instrumentation. He is accused of molesting two women, ages 69 and 71, at a nursing home. One of the woman has since died.
    The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City blamed the incidents involving Hughes on serious strokes he suffered in the last year, which required extensive hospitalization. Hughes admitted after his arrest that he touched the women but denied raping them, authorities said. Hughes, who is free on $10,000 bond, was removed from his ministerial assignment the day he was charged. 4/15



    ALLENTOWN — Fr. James Mihalak, 47, charged with fondling a 17-year-old boy who was hitchhiking a year ago, has been placed on probation. Suspended from church duties, Mihalak has held a host of positions in the diocese including a least four pastorships, two high school teaching assignments and for one year served as a high school principal. (3/21)

    PITTSBURGH — The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese may be forced to pay about $1 million to a slightly-retarded man who was molested by a priest as a boy, even though it didn't happen in church. At issue is whether Fr. Francis Luddy, 55, was acting as the boy's priest or friend when he took the then-11-year-old to a motel room and molested him in 1983 and also the next year. Luddy has denied molesting the boy but admitted molesting 5 other boys, including the boy's older brother over the period of nearly two decades. Though held responsible for a third of the $1.6 million dollars originally awarded, Luddy cannot pay. He is living without an income at the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico. (3/9)

    WYNCOTE - A suburban Philadelphia Episcopalian priest is facing child pornography charges. Fr. Robert Orr, 54, was arrested after images of young boys engaging in sex acts was found on a computer at his church in Wyncote, where Orr is the rector. He was being held on $50,000 bail at the pending a hearing scheduled for mid-May. (No date)



    PROVIDENCE — Fr. Ronald Bengford, placed on a leave of absence last fall after a man who hit him with a brick and stole his car accused him of sexual assault, has been reinstated into parish work after being cleared of wrongdoing. A Diocese of Providence spokesman said Bishop Robert E. Mulvee ended a six-month suspension of the 38-year-old former assistant pastor of St. Augustine Church in Providence after a church investigation determined that the allegations brought by Lance Blicker, 19, now an inmate at the Adult Correctional Institutions, were without merit and `"not worthy of belief.''

    Blicker pleaded no contest last week to charges that he robbed and assaulted the priest last Sept. Blicker had been held without bail since his arrest where police found him driving the priest's car a week after the robbery. In the hearing in Superior Court, the judge imposed a 10-year sentence — with 3 years to serve and 7 years suspended — after Blicker pleaded no contest to each of two counts of larceny of more than $500 and assault with a dangerous weapon. (5/20)

    PROVIDENCE — The state Supreme Court will hear the prosecutors' appeal of a judge's decision to order a retrial in the rape conviction of a Roman Catholic priest. In his second rape trial (for a second victim), Msgr. Louis Dunn had waived his right to trial by jury and opted for Judge Stephen Fortunato to solely try the case. Fortunato found Dunn guilty, ordered him t o be held without bail pending sentencing, but then in a few weeks, reversed himself, ordering a new trial. In a decision that outraged many, Fortunato cited letters from parishioners in support of the priest's good name. Fortunato is the first judge in state history to overturn his own guilty verdict. (3/31)

    PROVIDENCE — A federal judge has dismissed three sex abuse lawsuits against the Diocese of Providence and Frs. William O'Connell and Robert MarcAntonio, saying that the alleged abuses occurred too long ago. The ruling could effect dozens of similar cases.

    The priests were accused of molesting three brothers, all altar boys, in the early 1970s. O'Connell, who died in a treatment center, had been convicted twice of molesting boys. MarcAntonio's last known address was in Yuma, AZ. (3/1)



    MEMPHIS — Fr. Fred Sauer, 47, entered a new plea of guilty of setting fire to his church in 1996. He changed his plea from arson to burning religious property. Prosecutors allowed the changed because he had entered his first plea without being told it carried a minimum 5-10 year prison sentence. Burning religious property carried the same maximum sentence, but no mandatory minimum one.

    Sauer remains in the priesthood and has been staying at a Catholic psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania. (3/7)



    DALLAS — Arguments continue over who should pay the $119.6 million judgment against the diocese for sexual abuse by suspended priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos. Church attorneys say the Diocese of Dallas' insurance policies during the early 1980s should pay part. Attorneys for the insurers, meanwhile, have asserted that the policies excluded intentional acts like sexual abuse.
    The hearing took place as a critical date approached in the diocese's appeal process. The attorney for the eight plaintiffs who haven't settled could legally now begin seizing church assets since the diocese couldn't come up with the money to post an appeal bond of about $130 million.

    Lawyer Windle Turley would not say whether he plans to immediately seek to seize assets. He and diocesan attorneys were still in settlement negotiations, he said. "If we don't come to some resolution quickly, we have to do something besides talk," Mr. Turley said. He said it's unclear if filing bankruptcy would prevent the seizure of diocese assets. "Some courts have said it would," Mr. Turley said. "Some courts have said it wouldn't." The other three plaintiffs settled with the diocese and the insurers - Lloyd's of London and Interstate Fire & Casualty - for $7.5 million in March. (5/20)

    For more information on this case, see The Kos Files.

    DALLAS — An 18-year-old man and his parents sued the Assemblies of God and the church's ranch for troubled youths, claiming the youth was molested by a counselor at the center two years ago. The alleged victim was 16 when he went to Dallas Teen Challenge Boys Ranch in January 1996. According to his lawsuit, a counselor and convicted drug trafficker sexually molested him on at least six different occasions. The lawsuit further alleges that the church ranch Executive Director Paul Ecker and the ranch's board knowingly employed men with criminal histories as counselors despite being informed by state regulators that the practice was illegal.

    According to the lawsuit, most of the residents were there as a condition of probation, and had psychological or substance abuse problems. During the day, they performed chores, including caring for livestock, and took part in religious education. At night, they were "locked down" and monitored by alarm systems to prevent unauthorized departures. Among the employees and volunteers working at the ranch were men in a program called "Life Challenge," designed for adults. Many of them had substance abuse problems and were improperly admitted to the program as part of their probation, the lawsuit states. (5/18)

    DALLAS - A former rabbi accused by three women of improperly touching them decades ago apologized for "a very dark chapter in my life".

    Rabbi Max Zucker, the longtime head of a synagogue begged for forgiveness when confronted recently by one of the women he is accused of touching. The woman, her husband and parents said Zucker, 73, did not dispute her account that he touched her genitals.

    In an interview, Zucker sometimes denied improper touching and sometimes said he couldn't recall any. The three accusers - all middle-aged women - told the newspaper Zucker repeatedly molested them when they were between 11 and 13 years old. "I beg their forgiveness," Zucker said. "I don't recall any such thing ever happening. If they imagined it or if it was fact, I'm certainly sorry."

    Meanwhile the synagogue's board has hired a lawyer to examine how its current rabbi responded to the allegations against his predecessor and longtime associate, officials said.

    When the women went public they said that Rabbi Cohen seemed unwilling to investigate and offered them little help. He disputed that assertion but acknowledged that he never confronted Zucker and recently allowed him to perform a wedding at the synagogue. 5/20

    GRAND PRAIRIE— A suspended priest has been charged with stealing tens of thousands of dollars from his parish. Fr. Richard Tullius faces up to 10 years in prison. He is accused of taking the money from the bank account of St. Michael the Archangel Church without permission of the church finance committee, church officials said in a prosecution report.

    Tullius has been indicted on charges of theft of between $20,000 and $100,000.

    Long known as an advocate for the poor, Tullius declared personal bankruptcy in 1996, listing about $50,000 in debts and $10,000 in assets. A federal court later discharged his debts.

    The diocese removed Tullius as pastor in January 1997, then suspended him from performing priestly duties last September and urged people not to lend him money. 4/22

    DALLAS — A pastor convicted of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl was sentenced to 12 years in prison following testimony that he agreed to let her graduate early from the church's school in exchange for sex. Rev. Jerry Wayne Power, longtime pastor of Irving Baptist Temple and principal of the church's school, was convicted of two counts of sexual assault of a child.

    Power, 51, hopes to be released on bond while appealing the decision, his attorneys said.
    The jury of 11 women and one man deliberated 31/2 hours before deciding to punish Power with 12 years on one count and 11 years on the other. The jury fined him $10,000 on each count. He will serve both sentences simultaneously and will first be eligible for parole in six years.

    Power's attorneys argued that the girl should be held accountable because she testified that she and her friend initiated the deal with Mr. Power.

    A former student testified that Power fondled her, placed his foot in her crotch and masturbated in front of her. The woman said he told her that he would kill her parents and her horse if she quit his school. (4/17)

    DALLAS — A pastor convicted of assaulting two teenaged girls in his congregation has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Wendell Jones, 44, who had been on probation as a convicted sex offender since 1992 in a similar case, will be eligible for parole in 30 years. (3/24)

    HOUSTON — A lawsuit has been filed accusing the national Jehovah's Witnesses organization of refusing to alert authorities to the extended sexual abuse of a minor by her brother while they were both members of the church.

    The plaintiff, a 19-year-old woman, said that she had been sexually abused by her brother, now 22, since the mid-1980s. In 1988, the family sought counseling by church elder Kerry "John" Landers. The suit claims that Landers was instructed by the national office to handle the matter in-house rather than to report the abuse to the authorities as required by Texas law.

    Despite counseling, the brother continued to molest his sister. In 1992 the local church leadership appointed Landers and two other elders to investigate. The brother confessed to them and apologized and the elders put the matter to rest. He was convicted of sexual abuse and sentenced to prison. In that trial, Landers testified under a grant of immunity about his instructions to keep it quiet.

    The attorney representing the church said it strongly believes it committed no wrongdoing and said they vowed to defend themselves vigorously. (3/24)

    COPPELL — Monte Ray Freeman, 68, a former Baptist deacon and school board member, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $750 after pleading guilty to aggravated sexual assault of a 4-year-old girl last year. He had been alleged to be molesting girls over a decade ago, but church officials persuaded the accusers' parents not to pursue criminal charges. (2/27)

    DALLAS — The Diocese of Dallas has reached a $5 million settlement of lawsuits sexual abuse of two former priests who were colleagues of Rudy Kos. Three of the four cases involved Robert Peebles, Jr., who has admitted that he sexually abused 7-16 boys during five assignments from 1979 to 1986. They also involved the Military Vicariate, which oversees chaplains, and Dr. Ray McNamara, who treated both Peebles and the boy he is accused of molesting on an army base.

    The fourth case involved William Hughes, who was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl in 1983 and 1984. (2/12)

    DALLAS — A Baptist pastor awaiting trial on a sexual abuse charge involving an 11-year-old girl is now accused of molesting a 3-year-old girl at her mother's home.

    Police arrested Rev. Ronroyal Owens at his church office after a mother reported finding him nude in bed with her daughter. She told police she and Owens had gone to sleep in the living room but when she awoke shortly later and checked on her daughter, she discovered Owens with her, touching her leg. Her panties had been pulled down. An officer of the child exploitation unit of the Dallas PD said it did not appear that the child had been harmed.

    Owens was being held on a $300,000 bond. (2/11)



    BURLINGTON — A former priest of the Greek Orthodox Church will serve six months in jail for molesting a 12-year-old girl. Despite being convicted by a jury, Fr. Emmanuel Koveos, 62, continues to proclaim his innocence. He has been ordered to begin serving his sentence June eighth.

    The church has gone to court trying to evict him from a parish rectory. Koveos has ignored repeated orders from his bishop to move out of the rectory, according to letters filed with court eviction papers. Koveos was asked to leave last spring, a few months after he was accused of fondling the girl he was tutoring at the church, said the lawyer for the church. Koveos was convicted of those charges earlier this year.

    The parish and the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Boston are upset at Koveos' refusal to follow the bishop's instructions. They worry it might financially ruin the church, which is renting a home for the priest who has replaced Koveos.

    An eviction hearing in Superior Court was set for late May. A tribunal of the Greek Orthodox Church will consider Koveos' future as a priest after the sentencing. The Spiritual Court for the diocese, consisting of three to five religious members, could take a range of actions, including stripping Koveos of his priestly duties. The court also can consider other allegations that surfaced since his arrest. A New Hampshire woman has given a sworn statement about sexual misconduct, according to records. (5/22)



    WENATCHEE - It has been more than two years since pastor Roby Roberson promised to get even. In December 1995, a jury cleared Roberson and his wife, Connie, of charges they'd raped five children in their home and small, run-down Pentecostal church. Since then, Roberson has turned his church's food bank into a legal war room, becoming the most tenacious critic of the now infamous Wenatchee child-sex-abuse investigations. His weapons are copiers and fax machines, court hearings and media interviews. Roberson, 53, claims he is seeking justice for himself and advocating the liberty of more than a dozen people he says were targeted by a vindictive, manipulative police detective and a group of accomplices in the state's child-welfare department.

    He, his wife and six others are suing Wenatchee Police Detective Bob Perez, child caseworkers, and the city, county and state agencies where they work for allegedly violating their civil rights. The complicated case includes overlapping charges against 11 individuals. Together, the plaintiffs are asking for $70 million in damages.

    The trial, after three years of media attention on Wenatchee, will take place in Seattle. The civil suit directly involves only a handful of those caught up in the investigations. But it promises answers to the lingering question: Did a routine sex investigation turn into a witch hunt against innocent adults?

    It all began in 1995. The allegations of unthinkable child sex abuse, including sex parties in homes and at the Pentecostal church, first sprung up in 1995, while Perez was serving a two-year stint as Wenatchee's only sex-crime investigator. It has since become all but impossible to tally the victims and the guilty.

    The cases have touched 17 families, with nearly 40 children still separated from their biological parents, either placed in foster care, therapeutic care, adopted into new homes or living on their own.

    All told, 29 adults were charged with child sex abuse in cases commonly linked by the children making the allegations. Some were accused of incest against their own children.

    Others were linked to broader secrets — now widely discounted — in which adults were said to swap children in loosely organized sex rings, described by some as "The Circle." Of those charged with various types of sex crimes, 15 pleaded guilty, five were convicted by juries and three, including the Robersons, were acquitted. Charges against six others, including Rodriguez, were dropped.

    Police, caseworkers for the state's Child Protective Services office and prosecutors say their investigations were solid. They argue that some children show medical signs of abuse, that some suspects have never recanted their confessions. Prosecutors contend that, despite wider sex-ring allegations, they limited the scope of criminal charges to gain case-by-case convictions. They argue, in other words, that something bad happened to children in Wenatchee. But the outraged protests that accompanied the arrests have only grown louder. Led by a rogue cop, critics say, authorities ran roughshod over people's rights, then closed ranks to cover themselves. Now momentum is shifting.

    There are increasing criticism that at least some of the accused, including many vulnerable by virtue of poverty and low intelligence, were victimized by an overzealous prosecutorial system. In February, an appeals court overturned the conviction of the only woman found guilty of charges that actually included allegations of the broader sex ring. A March investigative report by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer maintains that, at most, six or seven children likely were abused by parents, neighbors or school acquaintances. Otherwise, the newspaper maintains, adults were unfairly prosecuted. A judge specially appointed by the state appeals court sharply criticized techniques used by Perez and other investigators, recommending two convicted adults be retried. Perez led investigation.

    Attorney General Janet Reno, whose office conducted a cursory review of the cases in 1996, has said the Justice Department will take a closer look. But critics of the investigation look to the Robersons' upcoming civil trial as their best chance for rehabilitation. (4/6)



    EAU CLAIRE — A Lutheran pastor accused of offering to pay male students from Panama if they allowed him to watch sex acts with women now faces felony charges of bail jumping for mailing letters to two victims. Rev. Richard Kittilstad, 50, had been charged in Nov. with 6 counts of soliciting prostitution involving 5 Panamanian men he had sponsored to live with him and attend classes at a technical school. None of the men took him up on his offer.

    One of his congregations has put him on a paid leave of absence but he is still allowed to preach for the other until the legal issues are resolved. (3/13)



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