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  Priest 'Manipulated' Boy, Prosecutor Says

By Jim Walsh
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
October 28, 2004

A prosecutor described the first Roman Catholic priest to risk a trial on sex charges as an expert manipulator who purposely drove the victim and his family apart to achieve his own sexual gratification.

Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell said the Rev. Karl LeClaire first pulled the male victim, then a sixth-grader at Queen of Peace Catholic School in Mesa, out of class to counsel him about his parents' divorce.

"He turned the counseling into an unquestioned opportunity to manipulate" the victim, she said. The boy "became a victim of Karl LeClaire's obsession. Father LeClaire took the obsession to the point he committed these crimes."

The priest said "being a gigolo doesn't mean you sleep with a person. You have to find something that is really missing in a person's life," the prosecutor said.

LeClaire is accused of touching the boy's genitals when he was 14 and 17 and is charged with child molestation and sexual conduct with a minor.

But defense attorney Dan Sheperd said that the sex charges are based solely on the victim's statements and that there is no evidence to back his allegations.

The victim "was a young boy going through a divorce who Karl took under his wing. He acted as a father. He did that for others," Sheperd said. The boy's "story, it did not happen."

LeClaire, 48, is still a priest but not acting in that capacity. He is the first Maricopa County priest accused of sex crimes to opt for a trial rather than pleading guilty in recent decades.

Mitchell said LeClaire's manipulation of the victim, now 24, included buying the one-time altar boy clothing, a stereo and a laptop computer, and taking him on trips to Alaska, Rome and Puerto Rico.

When the sexual abuse occurred, "he told him everybody is a bisexual and you need not fight your homosexual urges," she said.

At another point, LeClaire lent the boy money for a car and told him, "If you admit you're gay, you don't have to repay me," Mitchell said.

But Sheperd said the boy repeatedly denied having an inappropriate relationship with LeClaire when questioned by church officials and a school counselor.

Other church members who went on the trips reported no inappropriate conduct between the boy and priest, he said.

"Years later, he (the boy) decides to tell," Sheperd said. "He decides to tell after Karl says, 'It's a loan, I need the money back' after the stepdad defaults on a $125,000 loan."

Mitchell described the business loan as another manipulation tool, saying, "he got another hook" into the boy.

She said the boy's stepfather was unable to repay the loan when the business failed.

The trial before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens is expected to last eight days.

The victim, whose name is being withheld because of the sex allegations, is expected to testify today.

LeClaire already has paid a steep price, having been stripped of his priestly duties and branded a molester, Shepherd said.

"The church abandons him," he said.

 
 

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