Ex-Priest Sentenced for Sex with Teen

By Gary Grado
East Valley Tribune [Arizona]
December 16, 2006

A former Chandler priest was sentenced Friday for having sex with a teenage parishioner 23 years ago, but the man received credit for almost a year of pretrial incarceration and will likely walk out of prison within a few days.

Judge Warren Granville sentenced the Rev. Joseph Briceno, former associate pastor at St. Mary's Catholic Church, to almost 23 months in prison and three years probation — the maximum penalty available under the plea deal reached in October.

"The trust that was afforded you ... by the community is different than it is for parents and teachers, and you breached that trust," Granville said. "You admitted to breaching that trust."

Briceno was sentenced under laws from 1983, the period when the crimes took place, which allow for prison terms to be cut in half for good behavior. The law changed in 1994, requiring convicts to serve 85 percent of their sentences.

"I'm just happy that it's over," said Joaquin Bustamante, Briceno's victim. "I'm tired."

Barnett Lotstein, special assistant county attorney, said Briceno did not get a sweetheart deal.

The age of the case created difficulties in prosecution, Lotstein said, so the state is happy Granville gave the maximum sentence.

"The lesson in the Briceno case is we don't give up," Lotstein said.

Briceno pleaded guilty a few days after his trial began. The 2003 indictment alleges he had sex with Bustamante, who was 17 in 1983, on seven occasions and grabbed the breast of Bustamante's sister.

Briceno was working in Mexicali, where the local diocese made him an assistant pastor at a church there. He was arrested last year when he crossed the border into California.

In June 2003, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office ended a yearlong investigation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, charging eight priests in molestations from decades ago. Five were convicted, one is considered a fugitive, one died and the Irish government has refused to return one to be tried.

Monsignor Dale Fushek, former pastor of St. Timothy Catholic Community in Mesa, was indicted on sexually related misdemeanor charges and is still awaiting trial.

Contact Gary Grado by, or phone (480) 898-6573


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