SAGINAW, MI — A teenager testified in court he reluctantly agreed to go undercover to gather evidence against a Roman Catholic priest as he didn’t want others to be harassed by him.
Two preliminary examinations for the Rev. Robert J. “Father Bob” DeLand, 71, were held Wednesday, April 25, before Saginaw County District Judge David D. Hoffman, each related to a separate victim. The first hearing saw a 22-year-old man testify DeLand, a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, had sexually assaulted him on Aug. 7 inside DeLand’s Saginaw Township condo. It ended with Hoffman binding DeLand over to Circuit Court for trial on charges of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct and gross indecency between males.
After a break, the second hearing began with Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Melissa Hoover calling a 17-year-old male to the witness stand. The teen said in 2017 he had pleaded guilty to a charge of minor in possession of alcohol and was court-ordered to perform 25 hours of community service.
The teen knew DeLand as the priest worked as a hall monitor at his high school. He ended up doing his community service under DeLand’s supervision, beginning around October.
The teen grew concerned when DeLand began constantly calling him on the phone. He would also step on his feet and grab his hands in the school hallways, make him promise to hang out with him and would offer to buy him things. The teen told this to his parents and then they contacted police in November.
The teen told police he felt DeLand was harassing him, he said. Despite not wanting to do so, he agreed to investigators’ request to record his conversations with DeLand.
“I didn’t feel comfortable being around him,” the teen said. “I was just very intimidated by him, I guess you could say.”
DeLand would pick the teen up from his home, he said. The two would talk about drugs, alcohol, and sexual orientations, and smoke cigarettes, which DeLand bought for him, he said.
“There was one time where he touched my butt inside a classroom in the high school,” he said, adding DeLand hugged him every day. “He told me if I got marijuana he would smoke it with me. He told me he’d buy me alcohol and drink it with me, any time I wanted it. He would question me about how I felt about things sexually, what kind of porn I watched.”
In addition to giving the teen multiple cigarettes packs, DeLand would give him money, he testified. Eventually, DeLand asked the teen to acquire ecstasy for him, which the teen did. The teen testified DeLand gave him $100 for the illicit drug.
The teen on Feb. 25 stayed at DeLand’s condo and pretended to take an ecstasy pill, then faked the drug’s effects, he said.
“He really wanted to know what I was seeing,” the teen said. “He wanted to keep me awake.”
Feigning tiredness, the teen laid down on DeLand’s bed. DeLand then took off the teen’s shoes and socks and began massaging his feet, he said.
“He said that they were ‘starting to warm up,'” the teen said. “He was breathing heavily also. I felt a lot of anxiety and started feeling scared and said I wasn’t tired anymore and went back to the living room.”
The teen later returned to the bedroom with DeLand. The priest massaged the teen’s feet, chest, and back and put his hand on the teen’s buttocks for a minute or two, he said.
As this occurred, the teen had one hand holding a recording device over his groin. DeLand began rubbing the top of the teen’s hand, he said.
The teen then went to the bathroom and texted a detective, saying he wanted to leave.
“I felt like I was having a panic attack,” the teen testified. “I felt violated and I really, really wanted to get out of there. I felt like my heart was pounding out of my chest.”
During cross-examination, defense attorney Alan A. Crawford asked the teen if DeLand had reached out to him after he had missed several group community service events. The teen said the priest had. Crawford asked him if he had ever been convicted of a credit card fraud, and the teen replied he had when he was 14.
The teen said he did not recall when he started wearing a wire during his interactions with DeLand. He said police investigators encouraged him to pretend around DeLand that he was gay or confused about his sexuality. DeLand would then repeatedly reference anal and oral sex and tell the teen it was OK to be gay and that’s just how God made him, the teen testified.
Under re-cross, Hoover asked the teen why he agreed to function as an undercover operative. He replied he did so out of concern for others, not wanting anyone else to be similarly harassed.
The teen said he didn’t ask for DeLand to touch him or insinuate he wanted him to touch him. Questioned by Crawford, teen said he didn’t tell the priest to stop touching him either.
Once the teen finished, Tittabawassee Township Police Detective Brian J. Berg testified the teen and his parents met with police on Nov. 2 regarding DeLand behaving inappropriately.
“It suggests there could have been some grooming going on,” Berg said. “It was the early stages, so I didn’t have a lot of facts at that point, but the behavior was concerning.”
He said grooming involves a defendant building a relationship of trust with a potential victim with some goal, possibly sexual, in mind.
The detective added that DeLand was thought highly of in the community.
On Nov. 3, Berg said he met with Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner and learned of Saginaw Township police investigating DeLand on another matter. From there, Berg began an investigation to either prove or disprove DeLand’s guilt.
Part of the investigation involved the teen going undercover, Berg said, adding he was concerned for the teen’s safety.
“My goal was to give Father Bob the opportunity to do the right thing by planting police ruses,” Berg said.
The first of these ruses involved the teen’s dad calling DeLand and falsely telling him he caught his son watching gay porn. Berg said he hoped DeLand would react to this by talking the teen out of such behavior, saying the Catholic church still believes homosexuality is a sin. However, subsequent recorded conversations involved DeLand encouraging the teen to engage in homosexual activity, Berg said.
On one occasion, DeLand encouraged the teen to bring another male to DeLand’s home where they could have sex, Berg said. DeLand also told the teen if he wanted to run away from home, he could stay at his condo and he wouldn’t tell his parents, Berg said.
Other ruses involved the teen pretending to be high on Xanax while with DeLand and advising him that drugs were easy to get, but expensive. DeLand responded by taking the teen to an ATM, giving him cash, and encouraging him to get drugs, Berg testified. DeLand also made a comment that cocaine was a good drug to do, because it’s safer, the detective said.
During these recorded conversations, police were listening nearby in case they had to quickly intervene, Berg said. When the teen was at DeLand’s condo on Feb. 25, there were several officers outside with search warrants ready to be executed if they felt they needed to rescue the teen, Berg said.
“My intent on using (the teen) was to hopefully show Father Bob was that upstanding citizen and man of God he’s been referred to, and not a criminal defendant,” Berg said.
He added investigators did not engage in entrapment with DeLand, as every scenario they presented him with allowed for him to make a choice.
During cross-examination by Crawford, Berg said he once was a Catholic altar boy but later left the church. Crawford asked the detective if he has strong feelings regarding the church, to which Berg said he disagrees with its philosophy.
Crawford then asked Berg if he wrote in police reports that the Roman Catholic church has a propensity to cover up sexual assault allegations among its clergy. Berg replied he did write that, and stands by it.
Crawford also asked Berg if has strong opinions on homosexuality. Berg responded that doesn’t know of any priests that would encourage a 17-year-old to engage in homosexual acts, saying gross indecency is against the law. Crawford followed up by asking Berg if he would arrest someone who identified as gay, but Judge Hoffman interjected and told him to move on.
Hoover asked Berg if his feelings about Catholicism would lead him to pin a false charge on a Catholic priest.
“I was hoping Father Bob would be exonerated or be cleared,” he answered.
The hearing ended with Hoffman binding DeLand over to Circuit Court on a charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct causing injury, despite Crawford’s objections.
DeLand is to face three more preliminary examinations on three other cases the afternoon of Friday, April 27. Two of the hearings involve the 17-year-old who testified Wednesday, while the third involves a third alleged sexual assault victim, an 18-year-old male.
Sex abuse cases involving Catholic priest move to higher court
Posted: Wed 6:31 PM, Apr 25, 2018
SAGINAW (WJRT) – (04/25/18) – Two criminal cases involving a Mid-Michigan Catholic priest accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with young men, will move forward.
On Wednesday two young men testified about their contact with Father Robert DeLand as part of two separate preliminary examinations.
One of the the men was 21 at the time, the other was 17-years-old.
In both cases the Saginaw County District Court judge ruled there is enough evidence to move DeLand’s case up to Circuit Court for a possible trial.
The first case involving the 21-year-old, who is now 22, began last year when DeLand and the young man met at the Saginaw Township restaurant where he worked.
The man said he ended up telling DeLand, who many called Father Bob, about his struggles growing up, including years spent in foster care.
They also talked about money problems and his desire to go to college.
The young man said DeLand did pay some of his bills, but also called and texted him repeatedly.
Then in August the then-21-year-old ended up at DeLand’s Saginaw Township condo.
DeLand and him were taking shots of tequila before he recounts blacking out.
“The first time I faded back in he had his hand on my shoulders and then next thing I know he grabbed my face and started making out with me,” the man said.
The young man remembers coming in and out of consciousness, and at one point, he remembers both men having their pants down. He does not believe he took his own pants down.
He also said in court that DeLand tried to force inappropriate touching.
The young man said he was able to getaway and his girlfriend took him to the hospital. In court medical records were revealed showing he had a blood alcohol content of .257.
Saginaw Township Police later asked to have additional testing done for date rape drugs.
Two of the tests were negative, but too much time had passed for the third.
In court the prosecution played a recording of a conversation between DeLand and the 21-year-old. It was recorded at the police department after the incident at DeLand’s condo.
The young man repeatedly asked DeLand what happened the night he blacked out.
“I don’t know, and I’ll stand before God and say, ‘God I don’t want to hurt him’. But I don’t know,” DeLand said in the recording.
After the judge ruled the case could move forward to Circuit Court for a possible trial, the second preliminary exam began.
The second case involved a 17-year-old.
The teen and DeLand met during a balloon release, following his friend’s suicide last May.
On the night his friend took his own life, the teen had been drinking and was ultimately charged with being a minor in possession.
He was sentenced to serve community service and was assigned to Father DeLand.
After their initial meeting and subsequent community service, the teen said DeLand repeatedly called and texted him, and once even touched him on the buttock at school.
The teen said in court that DeLand bought him cigarettes and gave him money.
In November of 2017 the teen and his parents decided to talk to Tittabawassee Township Police Detective Brian Berg. “Well, it suggested that there could have been some grooming going on,” Berg said after learning what was going on between DeLand and the teen.
Berg took his concerns to the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office where he learned Saginaw Township Police were also investigating DeLand in connection to the previously mentioned 21-year-old.
The prosecutor’s office and police asked the teen to record DeLand.
“I didn’t want to do it, but I did it because if there’s anybody out there that was getting affected like I was because of this, I didn’t want anybody else to have to deal with what I was going through and what could have happened,” the teen said.
Before meeting with DeLand the teen would call a number on his phone and hang his earbuds over his shoulders and the contact would be recorded.
Police used what they called “ruses”. Berg describes them as a necessary police tactic not to be confused with entrapment.
“My preconceived plan give Father Bob an opportunity to be the priest that he portrays himself to be, or a criminal defendant,” Berg said.
Berg said one of the ruses involved the teen’s father telling Father Bob he thought his son was gay, even though that isn’t the case.
“After he learned that, every single conversation from there after focused on gay sex,” Berg said.
Police ended up arresting DeLand at his Saginaw Township condo in February after police say he went too far.
“I believe it started with massaging my feet again, and then at one point massaging my chest and my shoulders,” the teen said, adding DeLand also tried rubbing him inappropriately.
Charges have been filed in three cases involving DeLand. The third young man, an 18-year-old, is expected to testify in a preliminary exam on Friday. In that case DeLand is accused of inappropriate sexual contact with the teen at the St. Agnes Catholic Church rectory in Freeland.
Priest told alleged victim: ‘I don’t know what I did’
25 April 2018
A 22-year-old man says the Rev. Robert DeLand won his trust before a night of drinking at the priest’s condo last August.
The man says he blacked out and discovered his pants down when he regained consciousness. Later, in a phone call recorded by police, DeLand apologized to the man and said, “I don’t know what I did.”
DeLand, known as Father Bob, was ordered to trial Wednesday on charges of attempted criminal sexual conduct and gross indecency.
In a separate case, he was ordered to trial on charges of second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a 17-year-old boy. More court hearings are set for Friday.