Fitchburg Priest Gets Suspended Sentence for Child Porn, Thefts
By Gary V. Murray
Telegram & Gazette
February 27, 2013
|Lowe B. Dongor pleads guilty today in Worcester Superior Court . |
WORCESTER — A Fitchburg priest has been placed on probation with a suspended jail sentence hanging over his head after pleading guilty to child pornography and larceny charges.
The Rev. Lowe B. Dongor, 37, who fled to his native Philippines after being charged with the crimes, entered guilty pleas this afternoon in Worcester Superior Court to charges of possessing child pornography that was found on his laptop computer and larceny of more than $250 from St. Joseph's Parish in Fitchburg, where he had formerly been assigned.
Judge Janet Kenton-Walker sentenced Rev. Dongor, who was previously relieved of his priestly duties, to 2-1/2 years in the House of Correction, but suspended the sentence for 5 years with probation. The judge imposed conditions of probation that included sex offender registration and counseling, no unsupervised contact with children under age 16, GPS monitoring and the payment of $750 in restitution.
The sentence imposed by Judge Kenton-Walker was requested by his lawyer, Shane W. Surrette. Assistant District Attorney Courtney Sans recommended the Roman Catholic priest, the Diocese of Worcester's first Filipino priest, be sentenced to 1 to 3 years in state prison with probation to follow.
The prosecutor told the court that on June 29, 2011, Trooper John Conron of the state police unit assigned to the office of District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. took a statement from William A. Thibeault, the owner of Forsberg & Carlson, a business that services computers.
Mr. Thibeault told the trooper that he had taken possession of three computers the previous day at St. Joseph's Church in Fitchburg at the request of Monsignor Thomas Sullivan, Ms. Sans said.
She said Msgr. Sullivan told Mr. Thibeault that he wanted the computers “cleaned” because of concerns that they contained pornographic materials.
Using forensically sound software, Mr. Thibeault located images of children who appeared to be 10 or 11 years old on the laptop, transferred them to a clean thumb drive, and contacted state police, according to Ms. Sans.
She said the images were of varying sizes and depicted children both clothed and unclothed.
Trooper Conron reviewed the images and determined that they were not of children on a list of known children maintained by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to Ms. Sans.
The trooper then consulted with Dr. Rebecca Moles, a child abuse pediatrician, who viewed the images and offered the opinion that six were of children under age 18 and undeveloped sexually, the prosecutor said. One such image depicted a girl whose public area was prominently displayed, according to Ms. Sans.
Trooper Conron interviewed Rev. Dongor on July 1, 2011. After being advised of his Miranda rights, the priest admitted that several times over the past year he had taken $40 to $60 from the cash drawer at St. Joseph's and wired the money to his family in the Philippines, according to the assistant district attorney. Rev. Dongor believed that was why the trooper wanted to speak with him, she said.
As the conversation continued, Rev. Dongor also acknowledged visiting a website that he knew contained child pornography, Ms. Sans told the court. She said the priest related to the investigator that he paid for access to the website and regularly viewed images of girls that he believed were “11 to 12 years of age” from about August 2010 to June 2011. He also acknowledged that the computers in question were his personal property and used by him exclusively, according to Ms. Sans.
Rev. Dongor was released on personal recognizance after being charged in Fitchburg District Court in September 2011 with possessing child pornography and larceny. He was placed on administrative leave by the diocese and relieved of his priestly duties at St. Joseph's.
He failed to show up for an Oct. 25, 2011, court date, leading authorities to suspect he had returned to the Philippines. Meanwhile, Bishop Robert J. McManus asked Pope Benedict XVI to defrock Rev. Dongor in light of the child pornography charges. The Vatican has not yet acted on the request.
Rev. Dongor later turned himself in to the FBI in the Philippines and was arrested Dec. 10 by Los Angeles police. He was subsequently returned to Massachusetts and was ordered held on $500,000 cash bail in Worcester Superior Court.
In support of her recommendation that Rev. Dongor receive a state prison sentence, Ms. Sans said child pornography exists only because people are willing to pay for it.
“If there wasn't a person paying for it, there wouldn't be a person producing it,” she told Judge Kenton-Walker.
Mr. Surrette said his client, who was ordained as a priest on June 26, 2010, had no prior criminal record and cooperated fully with investigators. The defense lawyer said Rev. Dongor initially believed he would be able to maintain his priesthood after being charged and fled only after learning that would not be the case.
Mr. Surrette told the judge Rev. Dongor would be able to live with a friend if placed on probation and was aware that he could be deported as a result of his guilty pleas.
Raymond Delisle, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester, said this afternoon the diocese had no comment.