Former Priest, Alleged Molester, Released on Bail
Thomas James Pagni Iii, 45, Maintains His Innocence, While His Accuser and Others, Who Contend Pagni Is a Menace, Are Upset by His Release

By Debbie Salamone
Orlando Sentinel (Florida)
March 18, 1995

A former Orlando priest accused of child molestation bailed out of jail Friday over objections from his accuser's family and state prosecutors, who fear he might flee.

Thomas James Pagni III, 45, left the Brevard County Jail after a judge lowered his bail from $50,000 to $20,000. Brevard Circuit Judge Frank Pound said Pagni was entitled to a bond he could afford.

Pagni is charged with two counts of engaging in sexual activity with a minor and two counts of engaging in lewdness, all stemming from alleged activities as a mental health counselor in Brevard County.

St. Petersburg defense attorney Robert Pope says Pagni maintains his innocence and has no intention of running from the criminal charges. He said Pagni plans to return to his home in Tampa and regain his job as a paralegal. Pagni was arrested last month in Hillsborough County and transferred to Brevard. Prosecutor Meryl Allawas says Pagni's release has upset his accuser and others, who contend Pagni is a menace.

Allawas said she opposed a lower bond partly because authorities had been looking for Pagni since a warrant was issued for his arrest in August of 1993. But Pope said Pagni would have surrendered immediately in 1993 had he known the arrest warrant had been issued. Pope said he told authorities in 1992 that he was representing Pagni, and that Pagni was easy to find if anyone looked diligently for him.

In addition to the criminal charges, Pagni is the subject of a lawsuit filed Feb. 17 that claims he molested a 17-year-old client in 1992. The suit also alleges Pagni molested young boys between 1973 and 1986, when he was forced out of the priesthood. In exchange for his resignation, the Orlando Catholic Diocese paid for Pagni's schooling to become a mental health counselor.


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