Priest's Sex Assault Conviction Doesn't End Investigation, Prosecutor Says
By Cole Waterman
September 5, 2018
Though a Saginaw Catholic Diocesan priest pleaded no contest on Tuesday, Sept. 4, to seven criminal charges in the sexual assault of three young men, police and prosecutors say their work is far from over.
The Rev. Robert J. "Father Bob" DeLand Jr., 71, on Tuesday, Sept. 4, appeared in Saginaw County Circuit Court and pleaded no contest to two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving injury; attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct; assault with intent to commit second-degree criminal sexual conduct; gross indecency between males; selling alcohol to a minor and distributing an imitation controlled substance.
"I want to make it real clear," said Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner at a press conference held Wednesday morning. "The pleas yesterday did not stop the investigation. This is still continuing. This is not over."
He said that while investigators are unaware of any additional victims of DeLand, the Michigan State Police Computer Crime Unit is still analyzing data seized during March police raids on two Diocese properties and the home of Bishop Joseph R. Cistone.
"I'm not happy about the result in this case at all," Gaertner said, addressing reporters in a conference room within the Saginaw Township Police Department. "This should have never happened. This is despicable."
The investigation, which led to a creation of a task force, has used resources, personnel, and time that could have otherwise been spent addressing gun violence and drug crime in Saginaw, Gaertner said.
"I'm disgusted, to tell you the truth," he continued. "The church should have never allowed this to happen, period. The investigation is not over. The state police have to finish their part in it and we'll see where it takes us."
The Diocese on Wednesday released a short statement following DeLand's no contest plea.
"While the case is still pending, the Diocese does not want to influence it in any way. We will have a comment when the sentence is imposed," the Diocese's statement said.
Gaertner declined to comment on how many potential victims have contacted police or who else in the Diocese police may be investigating. Pressed whether or not Diocese officials could be under investigation for abuse or covering up abuse, Gaertner replied, "We'll follow both trains of thought where they take us. We'll follow the evidence."
Asked if the Diocese has been cooperative with investigators, Gaertner paused for a moment.
"No," he replied. "I'll leave it at that. I would say that they're just generally uncooperative. We cannot rely on them for information. The police agencies have to gather it on their own."
Gaertner stressed his office made no plea offer to DeLand, whose first of several trials was to begin Wednesday. In the days prior, prosecutors had discussed the matter with DeLand's attorney, Alan A. Crawford.
"I told (him) over the weekend there is no deal," Gaertner said. "The deal is this -- he pleads as charged."
With DeLand having no prior felony convictions, his sentencing guidelines are from 12 to 24 months. Circuit Judge Darnell Jackson, who accepted DeLand's pleas, has indicated he'll sentence the priest to one year in jail without the possibility of release on tether, followed by five years' probation. He will also have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
"His actions, his movements will be monitored by law enforcement and the courts," Gaertner said. "He's going to have restrictions on himself so he is, really, not a free man while he is out in public."
Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Melissa Hoover added the three victims' prime concern was that DeLand not victimize anyone else.
"After speaking with the victims yesterday, this seems to be the most appropriate choice with what their overall objective was with pursuing this case," she said. "Mr. DeLand has been very involved in the community up to this point. In a certain way (this) is a life sentence for him. He will never be looked at in this community as he once (was). Considering what he's used to, I honestly don't think a jail sanction will not appropriately punish him, because he's used to a different lifestyle."