Judge Orders Priest to Get Treatment

By Juli Cragg
Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida)
December 9, 1997

A Sarasota Catholic priest has been ordered into a sex offender residential treatment program after pleading no contest to two felony charges.

The Rev. Jeremiah Michael Spillane, 43, was accused of using a computer to try to arrange a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old boy named Tommy. But "Tommy" was actually a Clearwater police detective, playing the part in computer messages.

Spillane was arrested in February when he arrived in Clearwater for what police said was to have been a rendezvous. At the time, the priest was on staff at Sarasota's Church of the Incarnation and was chaplain for Cardinal Mooney High School.

He was placed on administrative leave by Bishop John Nevins of the Catholic Diocese of Venice, which includes Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties. Nevins has said Spillane has no future with the diocese. Spillane pleaded no contest and was sentenced Friday in Sixth Circuit Court in Clearwater. Judge Anthony Rondolino said that if Spillane follows the court's conditions, no convictions will appear on his record.

Prosecutors had requested jail time for Spillane, who had no prior criminal record.

Rondolino sentenced Spillane to two years of community control, or house arrest, followed by two years' probation. During the house arrest, he must complete a residential program that treats sex offenders. Rondolino also said Spillane must have no contact with children, must not live close to a school and must submit a blood sample for the state's sex offender records.

The judge did not say whether Spillane will be included on the state's list of sex offenders, which is posted on the Internet.

Authorities said they believe Spillane is living in Sarasota. Neither the priest nor his attorney, Joseph Ciarciaglino of St. Petersburg, could be reached Monday.

Assistant State Attorney Richard McKyton said that other than entering the plea, Spillane made no comments in court - "not admitting that he did it, not admitting that he's sorry, not admitting anything, really." Police had said Spillane confessed in full after his arrest.

The defense never contested the facts in the case, but had unsuccessfully argued that the charges should be dropped on the theory that without a victim there was no crime. The judge also ruled against Ciarciaglino's contention that the charges were unconstitutional and violated free speech rights.

After the judge issued a ruling against a motion that the two charges were too much alike and constituted double jeopardy, Spillane entered the no- contest plea.

Clearwater Police Det. Chuck Esposito, who pretended to be "Tommy" in computer correspondence with Spillane, said Monday that the priest also communicated briefly at about the same time with a child - a Tampa boy who was then 15.

"They hadn't ever gotten to any conversations about sex," said Esposito, who investigates crimes against children.

"I would classify it as beginning phase of seduction, boosting the child's ego, telling him how wonderful he is. Which is exactly what he did with me."

That boy was found through evidence that law-enforcement officials found in the rectory on Church of the Incarnation grounds, where Spillane lived. Esposito said the evidence included similar notations the priest made next to the boy's and "Tommy's" screen names - "Something along the lines of, 'Keep him pumped up,' " the detective said.

Spillane had been with the Diocese of Venice for 16 months when he was arrested. Before that, he had worked 21 years at schools run by his former order, the Legionaries of Christ, in Mexico, Spain and Italy.


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