Pennsylvania priest sentenced to over 16 years following ICE child sex tourism probe
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
March 2, 2016
PITTSBURGH – A priest of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was sentenced Wednesday to 200 months in prison followed by lifetime supervised release for offenses related to his sexual abuse of two minor boys during trips to Honduras over a five-year period. The sentencing caps an extensive child sex tourism probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
In addition to the prison term, Joseph D. Maurizio Jr., 70, of Central City, Pennsylvania was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and $10,000 in restitution to each of the two minor victims. Maurizio was convicted on Sept. 22, 2015, following an eight-day jury trial, of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, possession of child pornography and international money laundering.
"Child sex tourism is a scourge: adults preying on the young and vulnerable to satisfy dark desires," said David Abbate, assistant special agent in charge of HSI Pittsburgh. "As an agency, HSI is committed to the difficult but necessary task of ending this scourge – despite cost, distance, and international boundaries. There can be no place for the abuse of children here or abroad."
"It is important to recognize the courage of the victims, the tenacity of the investigators and the resolve of the prosecutors to bring this child predator priest to justice," stated U.S. David Attorney Hickton. "This sentence ensures that Joseph Maurizio will never again have the opportunity to travel beyond our nation's borders to victimize children."
"IRS Criminal Investigation will diligently work with our law enforcement partners to pursue those who violate the laws of the United States," said Akeia Conner, IRS-CI special agent in charge. "Our partnership with HSI in this investigation demonstrates that we will work together to address the full scope of an individual's illegal activity, and we will follow that trail wherever it may lead us."
According to the evidence introduced at trial, in 2001 Maurizio created a charitable organization, then known as Honduras Interfaith Ministries (HIM), which was funded by donations from community members, including parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Central City. HIM became the largest donor for Pro Niño, a non-profit organization that provided shelter and rehabilitative services to poor, abandoned and at-risk children residing in a rural town near San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Between 2004 and 2009, Maurizio used HIM moneys to fund 13 separate trips between the United States and Honduras, during which he sexually abused two minor boys living at Pro Niño shelters.
Evidence presented at trial demonstrated that Maurizio used his position with HIM, Pro Niño's largest donor, to gain unfettered access to the minors, as well as to purchase them gifts, including clothes, shoes and jewelry, in order to build the boys' trust and to ensure their compliance during his sexual abuse. During his final trip to Honduras, Maurizio paid two minor boys to engage in sexual acts with him.
In addition, trial evidence showed that Maurizio kept digital media depicting the minors he sexually abused and other images of child sexual exploitation in the Our Lady Queen of Angels Church rectory.
HSI and Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation in Pittsburgh investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Haines of the Western District of Pennsylvania and Trial Attorney Amy E. Larson of the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) prosecuted the case.
This investigation was conducted under HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 14,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2015, nearly 2,400 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative and more than 1,000 victims identified or rescued.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.