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  Priest Denies Charges of Romance Sister of Alleged Rape Victim Says She Went on Two Overnight Trips with Him

By Kerri Ginis
Fresno Bee
August 23, 2002

A 20-year-old San Joaquin woman testified Thursday that she had a romantic relationship with the Rev. Miguel Flores and said they kissed and hugged during two overnight trips they took last year.

The woman is the sister of a 16-year-old girl Flores is accused of raping. The Catholic priest took the stand Thursday and denied he had a romantic relationship with either sister.

"At this point, I can say my relationship with the family back then was very good," Flores testified with the help of a Spanish-language interpreter. "They were my friends. I had a good relationship with them."

Flores, 34, is accused of three counts of forcible rape, three counts of statutory rape, dissuading a witness and criminal threat charges. He has pleaded innocent. If convicted, Flores could spend up to 27 years in prison.

The priest testified that he purchased many gifts for the sisters, such as cellular phones, jewelry and clothing. He also bought each sister a car: a 2001 Chevrolet Lumina for the older sister and a 2002 Ford Mustang GT for the younger girl.

He told jurors the gifts were acts of kindness. He said his parents in Mexico sent him money on a monthly basis so he could help families who were struggling financially.

But he said he eventually realized the family was using him for his money. He ended his friendship with them after they asked him for a $2,000 loan, just two weeks after he bought them $2,000 worth of furniture.

"It hurt me very much to find out that I was being used by [the 16-year-old] and her family," he testified. "I told them this was the last time I was going to see them. I told them they had to go on in their life without me."

Flores' attorney, Rick Conway, claims the girl and her family made up the rape allegations to extort money from the wealthy priest. Prosecutors contend Flores betrayed a position of trust and raped the girl, who is now 17, three times at churches in Tranquillity and Hanford in January and February.

Flores has been a priest for seven years. He served at the St. Paul Church in Tranquillity before taking over the parish duties at Hanford's Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in February.

After his arrest in March, Flores was placed on leave by the Diocese of Fresno.

Deputy District Attorney Anna Ferguson asked Flores whether he gave the sisters cell phones because he wanted private access to them. The priest testified he bought them cell phones because the family didn't have long-distance telephone service.

The older sister told jurors that Flores gave her a cell phone shortly after the two met at the Tranquillity church in September 2001. She said they talked nearly every day.

About a month later, Flores asked her whether she wanted to take a trip to the coast with him. The 20-year-old said she accepted but told her parents she was staying overnight with friends because she knew they wouldn't allow her to travel alone with Flores.

The woman testified that, instead of taking her to the coast, Flores took her to a motel room in the mountains. She said they spent one night alone in the motel room where they "kissed and hugged."

She also testified that she spent another night alone with him during a trip to San Luis Obispo.

Flores testified that he never took trips alone with the 20-year-old. He said the two sometimes kissed and hugged, but not in a "romantic way."

"With everybody I see, I hug them and kiss them on the cheek," the priest said.

Under cross-examination, Conway asked the 20-year-old whether her younger sister said she wanted to sue Flores. The older sister responded: "That's not on our minds right now."

But their sister-in-law testified that the younger girl told her she planned to sue Flores for $1 million.

"She said, 'When I go, I'm not going to be fighting for a thousand dollars; I'm going to be fighting for a million,' " the sister-in-law said. "She said she wanted to purchase a car better than the one the priest had given her."

The girls' brother also testified Thursday. He said his younger sister told him that Flores didn't rape her.

"She told me that he had not violated her because she had kicked him in the groin," he testified.

Testimony in the trial concluded Thursday. The attorneys are expected to present closing arguments today in Kings County Superior Court.

 
 

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