Ogden Priest Pleads No Contest to Charge

By Joe Bauman
Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)
September 10, 2003

OGDEN — Mario Arbelaez Olarte, a Catholic priest who worked in Ogden, pleaded no contest Wednesday to using the Internet in attempting to entice a 15-year-old boy into sexual activity.

Olarte entered his plea before 2nd District Judge Scott M. Hadley.

"No contest" is legally the same as a guilty plea and carries the same consequences.

"He will be sentenced as a guilty person," said Gary Heward, deputy Weber County attorney. He added that Olarte will be listed on the official sex offender registry.

Under a plea agreement that has yet to be approved by the court, Olarte will cooperate with federal immigration officials in arranging to leave the country, thereby serving no jail time.

He is a native of Colombia and earlier served as a priest in Midvale.

"He came here legally," said his lawyer, Bernie Allen, explaining the pending deportation. "His status with the (Catholic) church has changed," so his status as an immigrant has changed, too.

"The church canceled his work," Allen said.

On May 15, Olarte communicated online with a "boy" in an Internet chat room. The boy actually was an agent with the Northern Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The agent represented herself as a 15-year-old, according to the charge.

Olarte indicated a particular sex act and arranged to meet the 15-year-old, saying he would honk his horn at an agreed location. Next, officers staked out the meeting place, 25th Street and Adams Avenue in Ogden. According to an earlier police statement, the priest drove by three times and then honked his horn.

Standing before Hadley on Tuesday, Olarte wore civilian clothing including a dark vest. He sported a short beard and moustache. He often held his hands behind his back and fingered a string of shiny beads. An interpreter stood to his left, repeating what was said in Spanish, with his lawyer to his right.

When Hadley asked if it was true he wished to plead no contest, the defendant said, "Yes," in a quiet voice. After Hadley was assured Olarte was voluntarily giving up his right to a trial, Olarte offered his plea: "No contest," he said.

Hadley set sentencing for 9 a.m. on Nov. 4 and asked for a report by probation officials.

After his arrest, Olarte had been released on his own recognizance. He declined a Deseret Morning News request for a comment.

Olarte remains free pending his next court appearance. He left the 2nd District Courthouse on Tuesday with a contingent of apparent supporters.

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake had no comment on the plea. Earlier, the diocese had placed Olarte on administrative leave and said he was not allowed to function as a priest.


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