6 WJAC TV
Updated: Wednesday, April 22 2015, 05:28 PM EDT
By: Maria Miller
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – A suspended Somerset County priest accused of molesting young boys on mission trips overseas was back in federal court Wednesday morning facing new charges.
Father Joseph Maurizio pleaded not guilty in federal court in Johnstown to a new set of federal charges filed last week, and as usual, he did so in front of a large group of supporters.
Maurizio was dressed in normal clothing and looked thin as he was led into the courtroom, trying to hide from the cameras. “He’s lost a lot of weight,” said Maurizio’s defense attorney Steven Passarello. “He’s doing as best as anybody can that’s sitting in a jail awaiting trial.”
The suspended Central City priest was handed a new federal indictment last week that lists allegations of abuse against two new victims and three charges of international laundering, with prosecutors suggesting that he used money from one of his organizations to travel overseas and promote unlawful activity.
But Passarello contends that it’s the same case that feds already investigated, and dropped, years ago.
“This case is the same case [the] exactly same case that was back in 2009 when the FBI had the case and closed the case in 2010 with no charges being filed,” Passarello said. “The U.S. has come into court in a number of these hearings and indicated they can prove this and show this, and none of it is new.”
Passarello said he has his own team of investigators in Honduras digging for clues. He said they’ve talked with the alleged victims, and so far, all the evidence they’ve collected only further proves Maurizio’s innocence. He said someone is trying again to retaliate against his client.
“Someone has the desire to get rid of Father Joe, get rid of his control in the orphanage in Honduras so that they can take over and control the money and the building and the property,” Passarello said. “That defense has not changed, and that investigation we’ve conducted in Honduras has only made that defense stronger.”
Maurizio smiled and waved to friends and family who packed the courtroom Wednesday, but his attorney told 6 News that he’s been struggling in jail and isn’t receiving the best treatment from other inmates because of the accusations against him.
“[I’ve] got to get this guy out of jail,” Passarello said.
Maurizio will stay in the Cambria County Jail until his trial begins in September.
Somerset County priest denies molesting boys in Honduras
Wednesday, April 22, 2015, 10:48 p.m.
By Liz Zemba
Appearing gaunt and frail, a Somerset County priest on Wednesday entered pleas of not guilty to federal charges he sexually molested three orphaned boys while on mission trips to Honduras.
The Rev. Joseph Maurizio, 69, smiled briefly and waved to a dozen members of his former Central City parish following the appearance before federal U.S. Magistrate Keith Pesto in Johnstown.
Maurizio’s attorney, Steven Passarello of Altoona, entered the pleas on Maurizio’s behalf.
The suspended priest appeared noticeably thinner than when he was taken into federal custody in September. He said nothing as he was led, handcuffed and in leg shackles, from the courtroom to be returned to the Cambria County Prison.
A federal grand jury in September alleged Maurizio sexually assaulted an orphaned boy while visiting Honduras under the guise of doing charity work. On April 7, the government filed a superseding indictment in which the grand jury added two more alleged victims and allegations of international money laundering.
The eight-count indictment charges Maurizio with four counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places at various times between 2004 and 2009. He is charged with one count of possession of child pornography and three counts of transporting, transmitting or transferring funds into or out of the United States with the intent to promote carrying on an unlawful activity.
Wednesday’s hearing was to notify Maurizio of the new charges. After the hearing, Passarello described Maurizio as an innocent victim of baseless allegations.
“These children have been coerced by individuals in Honduras who desired to get rid of Father Joe, so they could take over the orphanage and control the money,” Passarello said.
Federal officials in September said the priest used a self-run charity based in Johnstown, Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries, to visit an orphanage numerous times between 1999 and 2009, promising candy and cash to boys to watch them shower, have sex or fondle them.
The original indictment identified one minor male victim. The new indictment identifies two more victims and alleges Maurizio sent checks totaling $8,000 to another charity, ProNino USA, to facilitate the trips.
The indictment alleges two of the boys, identified only as Minor No. 1 and Minor No. 2, were sexually assaulted between Feb. 26 and March 13, 2009. The third victim, Minor No. 3, was assaulted sometime between March 5, 2004, and March 11, 2007, according to the indictment, and between March 3 and March 14, 2008.
Maurizio said the allegations are not new, having been investigated by the FBI in 2009, with no charges filed at that time. He described the new indictment as an attempt by prosecutors to salvage their case.
“When the government files a charge, and that charge falls apart, their M.O., always, is to attempt to add more victims and more charges,” Passarello said. “It is our position that this is what has occurred.”
Margaret Philbin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, had no comment about the matter.
The case is expected to go to trial in September and last four to six weeks.
Maurizio had been pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Central City since 2003. Bishop Mark Bartchak of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese imposed the suspension in September.
Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Details of child sexual abuse that led to charges against a Roman Catholic priest on Thursday were reported to his Pennsylvania diocese nearly five years ago, court records show, but the church authorities did not remove him as a pastor.
The priest, the Rev. Joseph D. Maurizio Jr., was charged in federal court in Johnstown, Pa., with possessing child pornography and engaging in illicit sexual conduct on trips he made to a boys’ orphanage in Central America. Father Maurizio visited the orphanage over a decade until 2009, when a Virginia-based charity that runs the home uncovered accusations of abuse by “Father Joe,” and passed them on to the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, according to a criminal complaint and the group.
Father Maurizio, however, remained as pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels in Central City, Pa., east of Pittsburgh, until this month, when he was placed on leave after federal agents raided his parish home and his chapel, carting off computers, a hard drive and other electronics. The diocese said in a statement after his arrest that it was “profoundly disturbed by the allegations.”
An activist who runs a priest-abuse website that learned of the accusations months before the arrest accused Bishop Mark L. Bartchak and his predecessor, Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, of looking the other way for years. “Their total lack of interest is so disturbing,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org.
The Roman Catholic Church’s long-running abuse scandal led to the arrest this week of a former papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Pope Francis has set a new tone of not looking away from sex crimes by clergy members against children.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is reviewing the case of the first senior official of the Roman Catholic Church to be convicted in connection with the sexual abuse of children, Msgr. William J. Lynn of Philadelphia, whose 2012 conviction was overturned last year.
Father Maurizio, 69, made annual visits to Honduras, Nicaragua and other Central American countries to help homeless children, according to newsletters of a charity he ran. Investigators said he also had another purpose: sexual tourism.
Young men and boys interviewed in El Progreso, Honduras, by an agent of the Department of Homeland Security this year told of a decade-long pattern of abuse by Father Maurizio, according to the criminal complaint. One male witness said the priest tried to photograph him naked in a bath and later offered him money to masturbate. Another witness said the priest pulled down his pants in a chapel when he was 14, and the two had sex after which the priest gave him chocolates. A third witness described seeing Father Maurizio grope an underage boy in a pickup truck.
More than four years earlier, these and other accounts had first reached the American charity that sponsored the orphanage, Fundación ProNiño, a residence for homeless boys 6 to 18. Board members from the group, ProNino USA, based in Richmond, Va., went to Pennsylvania to confront Father Maurizio.
The priest denied the accusations, court records state, and he threatened the group, saying that he would withhold money from their orphanage as he tried to dissuade its chairwoman from reporting him. The complaints were passed to the bishop anyway, in November 2009, as well as to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Pennsylvania attorney general.
Father Maurizio stopped making trips to Central America for nearly two years, according to the complaint. But since July 2011, he has gone on 10 trips to countries including Costa Rica, Guatemala, Haiti and Nicaragua.
In a newsletter about his charity, Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries, Father Maurizio reported that he was expanding to orphanages in South America. The summer 2012 newsletter said Father Maurizio’s charity had received its major support for 15 years from the Pennsylvania Knights of Columbus, the lay Catholic organization, for which he said he was a former chaplain.
On Thursday, a spokesman for the priest’s diocese told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that it was unaware of Father Maurizio’s charity, though he boasted in newsletters of taking volunteers on mission trips.
Out of frustration that the authorities were ignoring Father Maurizio, ProNino USA contacted BishopAccountability.org, which tracks accusations of child sexual abuse against Catholic clergy members. It alerted a lawyer with ties to the Department of Justice and shared documents with the Department of Homeland Security, whose agents in Pittsburgh began investigating, Ms. Barrett Doyle said.
Father Maurizio, who appeared briefly in court on Thursday, remains in custody pending a detention hearing on Monday.