Priest Charged with Abusing Boy, 12
By Jay Weaver
June 10, 2004
Miami-Dade County prosecutors on Wednesday charged a Catholic priest with fondling a 12-year-old boy who was visiting his grandmother at a nursing home three years ago - marking the first arrest of an Archdiocese of Miami clergyman on sex-abuse offenses.
The Rev. Trevor Smith, who served in the archdiocese for 35 years, surrendered at the Miami-Dade County Jail and was charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious assault on a minor stemming from the 2001 incident. The 67-year-old priest, now retired and living in Pompano Beach, was released on $75,000 bail.
Smith, accused by the same boy in a 2002 lawsuit that the archdiocese settled for $500,000 last year, has consistently proclaimed his innocence. The allegation is the only complaint against Smith during his long career at several South Florida parishes and nursing homes, according to court records.
Smith's prosecution is the latest involving a few priests in Florida and dozens of others nationwide since the Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal erupted in early 2002.
The state attorney's office launched its own clergy abuse investigations that spring, asking the archdiocese to turn over all complaints of clergy sexual misconduct and related records. It took two years for prosecutors to pore over about 35 cases, which resulted in only Smith's arrest.
2002 Smith worked as the chaplain at the Villa Maria Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in North Miami before retiring from the archdiocese in April 2002 - about three months before the boy reported the complaint.
Smith is accused of inviting the boy into his living quarters at the nursing home and showing the child a picture book of naked youths. Then the priest allegedly convinced the boy to let him measure his penis with a ruler. After the boy unzipped his pants, Smith had the boy fondle his genitals while he touched the boy's, according to North Miami police.
According to police, Smith told the victim, "You're not gay, OK? It's OK for two guys to touch each other."
After leaving the room, the victim immediately told his younger brother about the incident and added that the priest "wanted to conduct the same activities" with the younger boy, the report said.
Neither Smith's criminal attorney, David Raben, nor archdiocese officials returned several calls for comment Wednesday evening.
His civil lawyer, Douglas McIntosh, said in an earlier interview that Smith never admitted wrongdoing.
Prosecutors were able to charge Smith because the alleged victim filed a complaint in July 2002. Because he was still a minor when he made the complaint, Florida's statute of limitations gave prosecutors three years from that point to file lewd and lascivious charges.
"It kept the information alive," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in an interview. "And in keeping it alive, there was hope for a prosecution."
If convicted, Smith would face a maximum prison sentence of 30 years - though sentencing guidelines recommend between two and three years on both counts.
On Wednesday, Rundle and her prosecutors said they were frustrated by Florida's other legal barriers that prevented them from pursuing charges in 35 other cases involving about 20 archdiocese priests and religious brothers.
The reason: The alleged victims in those cases were all adults when they recently reported the incidents, which they said occurred in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. The statute of limitations had expired long ago.
Prosecutors also were able to file charges Wednesday in one other church-related incident. Juan M. Sastre Sr., 86, of Hialeah, was accused of sexually assaulting three girls 15 years ago at St. Agatha Church in West Miami-Dade.
The legal basis for filing charges was different from Smith's case. State law says there is no statute of limitations when the victim of an assault involving genital-to-genital or oral contact is 11 years old or younger.
Sastre, a former church volunteer carpenter, faces one count of capital sexual battery, which carries a possible life sentence. In a recent Herald interview, he denied abusing the girls, who were sisters and all under 12 years old at the time.
In a three-page memo on the clergy investigations, Assistant State Attorney David Maer told Rundle that the main reason the 35 cases were closed without taking action was because of the statute of limitations.
Maer, the supervising prosecutor, wrote that authorities questioned the victims to seek another way to proceed. But their answers "did not produce any additional avenues to pursue an investigation or lead to the discovery of any additional victims or witnesses."
Maer said his office is still investigating the claim of a former Hialeah altar boy who recently accused the Rev. Joseph Cinesi in a lawsuit of sexually assaulting him when he was a 10-year-old student at Immaculate Conception School 25 years ago. Cinesi, the subject of other settled lawsuits involving sexual abuse of both minors and adults, is on a leave of absence from the archdiocese.
In the Smith case, Maer said prosecutors filed charges because of the credibility of the alleged victim and because his complaint was relatively recent. Also, the boy's younger brother will be a key witness, they said.
The boy's civil attorney, Jeffrey Herman, called the arrest an "important step for the victim and his mental well-being."
Last September, the Miami archdiocese paid $500,000 to Herman's client, now 15, and his mother in a settlement. The archdiocese admitted no wrongdoing, saying it wanted to avoid lengthy litigation.
That was the largest settlement paid by the archdiocese, which has been hit with about 35 negligence suits alleging clergy sexual misconduct.
The archdiocese has settled about 10 other cases for less money - including a $425,000 payout to the three sisters allegedly assaulted by Sastre.
NO CHARGES FILED
Prosecutors investigated about 20 other Archdiocese of Miami priests and members of religious orders, but the statute of limitations prevented them from considering filing charges. They never determined if there was probable cause of a crime.
Among those investigated: Manuel Bartholomew, Ricardo Castellanos, Francisco Carrera, Rocco D'Angelo, Christopher Eggleton, Thomas Engbers, Neil Fleming, Ernesto Garcia-Rubio, Alvaro Guichard, Hector Gonzalez-Abreu, Joaquin Guerrero, Otto Martinez, Ruy Montealegre, Jose Nickse, Joseph O'Shea, Enrique Perez, William Romero and Kenneth Whittaker.
The Rev. Joseph Cinesi is still under investigation.
PRIEST'S WORK HISTORY
The Rev. Trevor Smith, 67, who was charged with sexually abusing a minor, once served as director of the ministry to the sick for the Archdiocese of Miami. He retired as an active priest in April 2002 after 35 years of service.
Here is Smith's archdiocese employment history:
* Villa Maria Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, North Miami, 1995-2002.
* St. John's Rehabilitation Hospital and Health Care Center, Lauderdale Lakes, 1987-94
* St. Clement, Fort Lauderdale, 1983-86
* St. Patrick, Miami Beach, 1980-82
* Higher studies, 1979
* Mercy Hospital, Miami, 1976-78, Miami
* Epiphany, South Miami, 1974-75
* St. Vincent, Delray Beach, 1973
* St. Francis de Sales, Miami Beach, 1971-72
* St. Timothy, Kendall, 1970
* St. Clement, Fort Lauderdale, 1968-69 Source: Archdiocese of Miami; P.J. Kennedy Catholic Directory.
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