Lawyer: Hubbard Probe 'Dangerous'
By Robert Cristo
The Record [Troy NY]
March 9, 2004
TROY - Investigators hired by the Albany Diocesan Review Board to look into allegations of sexual misconduct against Bishop Howard Hubbard refused to interview an elderly person who may have shed light on the death of Rev. John Minkler.
The interview was supposed to occur in Minkler's 11th-floor office at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Hospital in Albany, but private investigators representing Mary Jo White walked away from the table after realizing the elderly person wanted attorney John Aretakis in the room.
Minkler was found dead in his Watervliet home just days after signing an affidavit stating he did not write a letter that allegedly linked Hubbard to sexual relations with two other priests.
Aretakis' client requested anonymity, and asked to be identified only as an "elderly person." His client was called by investigators for the interview last Tuesday, according to Aretakis.
A videotape supplied by Aretakis shows the attorney and his client in the office with investigator Frank Citera and Rev. Sennen SanFratello, a priest at the Veterans Affairs Hospital, arguing with Aretakis over the legal ramifications of the attorney being in the room.
Citera called Aretakis' presence in the room "inappropriate" and a "conflict of interest," considering the lawyer has represented dozens of clients alleging sexual abuse against the diocese.
However, the investigator never presented any legal reason as to why Aretakis should be barred from the interview.
"He just wants to ask her a couple of questions. ... It's (having Aretakis in the room) creating an atmosphere that's putting her ill at ease," said SanFratello, who added, "we are trying to piece together" the investigation in the interests of Minkler.
The video clearly shows the elderly client requesting that Aretakis remain in the room.
"There's nothing improper about my client wanting to bring a lawyer. ... People have legal rights and White and her private investigators have no power over me or the law," said Aretakis. "It's dangerous, because they want to work in secret.
"One of Minkler's closest friends is willing to answer all the questions, but they bullied her into speaking without the benefit of a lawyer present," he added.
Officials from White's law firm, Debeuoise & Plimpton, would not comment on the investigator's interviewing tactics. White has maintained she will not speak to the media until the investigation is complete.
Leaders from the Albany Diocese did not return calls for comment.
Aretakis, meanwhile, reminded the public on Monday that White is a privately hired attorney in this case making more than $700 an hour, and not a representative on any federal level.
White was a former U.S attorney for the Southern District of New York who has investigated the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the prosecution of mobster John Gotti.
"There are a lot of elderly and not well-educated people who hear, 'I'm a former President Clinton, Bush appointee, now give me information,' and are going to get intimidated," said Aretakis. "It sounds more official, but they (White's team) have no right to question people without an attorney."
Timothy Sawicki, 44, who claims he was abused as a teenager in the 1970s by five Albany Diocese priests, said of the tape that it was "business as usual" in terms of the "weak" investigation carried out by the diocese.
Sawicki alleges that two local priests, who were put back into ministry over the weekend after a Diocesan Review Board investigation found them innocent, were among five priests who sexually abused him.
"It doesn't surprise me to see a parallel of what's going on now to the problems of all the other investigations," said Sawicki. "I'm dumbfounded and concerned by it."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.