Ex-Priest Opts for Trial in Altar Boy Sex Assault

By Jim O'Neill
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
October 1, 1998

A former Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting an altar boy in Perth Amboy 10 years ago has rejected a deal to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced prison term, his lawyer said yesterday.

Michael Santillo, 49, wants his day in court, his lawyer, Thomas P. Fischer of Washington Township, said.

"He maintains his innocence and he wants a trial so the truth can come out," Fischer said.

After the plea offer was rejected Tuesday in New Brunswick, Superior Court Judge Barnett E. Hoffman set a trial date for April 16, 1999.

Santillo, who served as pastor of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Perth Amboy from 1985 to 1989, was offered a prison term of five to 10 years if he pleaded guilty to assaulting the altar boy, who was 14 at the time.

Had psychological testing determined that the ex-priest should serve the term at the state's Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center for sex offenders in the Avenel section of Woodbridge, he could have served the full 10 years, according to the plea offer.

On the other hand, if tests had determined that he did not need counseling and treatment, he would have served his term in state prison and could have been eligible for parole after 21/2 years.

If convicted in a trial, Santillo faces as much as 30 years in prison.

Santillo, who left the priesthood to care for sickly parents, has declined comment. His lawyer has said the assault allegations were fabricated by the youth.

Santillo, who now lives in Schenectady, N.Y., faces seven counts of sexual assault and child endangerment. Authorities claim that the altar boy was invited to the rectory at St. Mary's and was assaulted on various occasions in 1988. Police charge Santillo performed oral sex on the youth and enticed him to play a sex game for money.

Charges were filed after the alleged victim, now 24 years old and married, complained to authorities.


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