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  Priest Also Faces Federal Charge
Punishment for Soliciting Sex Steeper Than State Penalty

By Peter Franceschina
Sun-Sentinel
September 20, 2002

The federal prosecutor who put a Boca Raton rabbi in prison last year for soliciting sex from teenage boys over the Internet took aim Thursday at a Roman Catholic priest arrested last week on a similar charge.

Federal prosecutors unsealed a criminal complaint Thursday against the Rev. Elias Guimaraes, 43, of Our Lady Queen of Peace Mission west of Delray Beach, hours after he had a bond hearing before Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Marvin Mounts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lothrop Morris moved swiftly to get a federal charge filed against Guimaraes before bail could be set and he could be freed. The filing of the federal charge also raised the stakes in the case -- it is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, while the state charge is punishable by up to five years in prison.

In the morning hearing, Mounts listened to the prosecution and defense and said he would issue an order in the late afternoon. He set Guimaraes' bail at $10,000, put him under house arrest and forbade him to have unsupervised contact with children or access to a computer.

All of that became moot when U.S. Magistrate Judge Linnea Johnson signed a federal warrant detaining Guimaraes without bail, and keeping him in Palm Beach County Jail. Guimaraes is scheduled to be back in court this morning, this time in front of Johnson in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach. He will be informed of the charge and a date will be set for a federal bond hearing.

Federal prosecutors could not be reached to discuss their decision to charge Guimaraes with using the Internet to solicit a child for sex, based on the same allegations in the state charge. The state charge remains in place for now, said Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office spokesman Michael Edmondson. Typically, a defendant is constitutionally protected from facing the same charge in state and federal jurisdictions.

"The state and federal government will discuss who can pursue the most aggressive prosecution," Edmondson said.

Guimaraes, a native of Brazil who has been in this country for a few years, was arrested Sept. 9 on charges of sending sexually explicit e-mails to a Delray Beach police detective who was posing as a 14-year-old boy on Internet chat rooms. In the series of e-mails, police said Guimaraes boasted of sexual encounters with 16-year-old and 14-year-old boys and solicited sex from the undercover detective, according to arrest reports. The Diocese of Palm Beach suspended him from ministry.

Guimaraes sat with other defendants in the jury box Thursday, looking glum in a faded blue jail jumpsuit. For the most part he kept his face covered with his hands to shield himself from news cameras. Nearly a dozen parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Peace were in the courtroom to offer support.

"A priest is a man. A man can be wrong sometimes," said Aurora Moreira of West Palm Beach. "We're just here to help him, to support him."

The first sign that federal prosecutors were interested in Guimaraes came after the brief hearing, when Morris rushed into the courtroom to meet with the state prosecutor and turned over an unknown document. Guimaraes' attorney, Eugene Garrett of Boca Raton, said he would address whatever charges are filed.

"Whatever the charges are, let them bring them forward," he said. "It's a gentleman talking dirty to a cop at this point."

He also said the priest's arrest didn't relate to his wearing the collar. "It has nothing to do with his priestly duties," he said. "This has just been blown out of proportion."

The Guimaraes case has parallels to the Levy case.

Levy, 59, spent hours in sex chat rooms exchanging lurid e-mail messages with young men nationwide using his Internet alter ego, "CoachBoca," according to court records. He was arrested after a Lake Worth father found a sexually explicit e-mail to his son and called sheriff's investigators.

After seizing Levy's computer, investigators found he kept a diary detailing his contacts with 30 different online users, mostly minor males. They also identified a 14-year-old Wellington boy Levy met online and then had sex with in his car. Levy was initially arrested on state charges, but federal prosecutors stepped in with charges that carried harsher prison terms. Last December Levy was sentenced to 61/2 years in prison.

Investigators are now examining two computers they seized from Our Lady Queen of Peace, one of them taken from Guimaraes' room.

 
 

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