No Vow of Silence Here
Fernando Guido Wants to Talk, but Investigators Don’t Want to Listen
By Gustavo Arellano
Orange County Weekly
December 25, 2003
[See also other
articles by Gustavo Arellano.]
Two years after he discovered child porn on a priest’s
laptop computer and alerted Catholic officials, Fernando Guido has a question:
Why don’t police, prosecutors and federal investigators want to know what
|Photo by James Bunoan
A 28-year-old Fountain Valley real estate agent, Guido was a lay employee
of the Diocese of Orange in August 2001 when he found graphic kiddie porn
images on a laptop once owned by Father César Salazar, then a priest at
St. Joseph’s Catholic church in Santa Ana. After a two-week investigation,
Santa Ana Police Department detectives asked the Orange County District
Attorney to prosecute Salazar. The DA’s office declined.
Did the Santa Ana PD have a case? Even today, they think they did.
"I’ll stay away from passing judgment on another agency," said
Baltazar de la Riva, spokesman for the SAPD. "All I can say is that
we decided to file charges against Mr. Salazar and the DA refused our
Guido was similarly incredulous—neither the police nor the DA had ever
contacted him during their investigations—and he was outraged by the behavior
of his own church. Despite the allegations against him, Salazar continued
to say Mass at St. Joseph’s.
His defenders might point out that Salazar hadn’t been convicted, let
alone prosecuted, and that the diocese’s zero-tolerance policy against
child-abusing priests at the time didn’t apply to possession of child
pornography. That only infuriated Guido further.
"Around the time I told the diocese about Salazar, my first son had
just been born," said Guido, whose home parish is St. John the Baptist
in Costa Mesa. "I didn’t want the case to go public—if I did that,
I knew that it would explode into something unpleasant and the diocese
would lose face. But then I thought about my son. I wouldn’t want him
to receive communion, hear confession, or be an altar boy with a priest
like Salazar. I didn’t want any parent to suffer that. And yet the diocese
continued to allow Salazar to officiate over [Mass]."
Guido soon arranged a meeting with Michael McKiernan, secretary to the
top diocesan official, Bishop Tod D. Brown. McKiernan assured Guido that
Salazar was not allowed to interact with children at St. Joseph’s K-8
school and had undergone psychological counseling for what Guido says
the secretary called Salazar’s "sexual immaturities."
Guido was ecstatic. "My convictions were reaffirmed that I wasn’t
making a big thing out of nothing," he said. McKiernan’s response
"gave me assurance that someone was going to deal with Salazar. It
showed that the secretary to the bishop thought the charges serious enough
and that hopefully they’d get in contact with law enforcement again."
But nothing happened and time was running out. Under California law, possession
of child pornography can only be prosecuted a year after its procurement.
Guido wrote a letter to the DA’s office on Jan. 29, 2002, imploring the
agency to reopen the case against Salazar and to act quickly.
The DA didn’t respond until the statute of limitations had run out. On
Oct. 6, 2002, Fell wrote that "no criminal charges could be proven
against the accused" and that "the specifics of the investigation
are confidential and cannot be released without a specific order."
That’s when Guido went public. He talked to reporters and, in July 2003,
contacted the FBI, who promptly began an investigation. That triggered
something like a panic elsewhere. The DA scrambled to explain why the
agency had allowed the statute of limitations to expire on the case. The
Diocese of Orange immediately placed Salazar on administrative leave following
a public uproar; the Orange County-raised priest remains on leave until
the FBI’s investigation is concluded.
Guido has lots of questions, and not just why no one has talked to him—the
guy who found the child porn on the laptop—but also why it took the DA
almost a full year to respond to his letter.
"We’re not saying we didn’t get [Guido’s letter], we’re saying maybe
Fell didn’t immediately receive it," said DA spokeswoman Susan Schroeder.
"And we’re not an investigating agency. In the Salazar case, the
SAPD did the investigation. All we could do was study it to see if we
could prosecute the case. In America, ‘under investigation’ means you’re
being investigated—even if you’re charged with a crime, we have the burden
to prove the case. We didn’t feel we had that at the time."
Schroeder welcomes a reexamination of the Salazar case, noting, "A
police agency can bring [cases] back to us at any time. It’s not a dead
end, it’s a two-way street."
But no one has contacted Guido since he got in touch with the FBI in July.
Laura Bosley, media spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles office, could
say only that the Salazar case was "pending," and declined comment.
De la Riva at the SAPD said his department would reopen the Salazar investigation
"if we get leads or more info that would help us strengthen our case.
Unfortunately, we have not received any additional info that would warrant
a reinsertion in the [DA’s] office."
More information might come from Guido, the man waiting vainly for their
"When they saw the child porn on the computer, detectives could’ve
reasonably obtained a search warrant to search his personal computer.
They could do it now," said Guido. "They could do so much more.
Whoever handled the case didn’t do their work. They are negligent."