Court Denies State Request for Files in Abuse Case
By Jennifer Golson
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
May 9, 2007
A 74-year-old Franklin Township man accused of molesting a boy during a sleepover is a former priest, but the state will not be allowed to review his personnel file for similar allegations in his past, a Superior Court judge ruled yesterday.
Eugene Corbesero is facing charges of sexual assault and child endangerment for allegedly fondling a 12-year-old boy at the man's home on Aug. 16, 2006. Corbesero was formerly a Roman Catholic priest with the Consolata Society for Foreign Missions, which has an outpost in Franklin Township, Somerset County.
While Corbesero has not been affiliated with the religious order since the 1970s, a confidential informant told the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office that 2006 may not have been the first time Corbesero was accused of such acts.
Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Murphy yesterday argued for a motion before Superior Court Judge Paul Armstrong requesting Corbesero's personnel file from the religious order.
"We have reason to believe there is other evidence of similar conduct out there," Murphy said in the Somerville courtroom. Doctors' reports indicate Corbesero said the current allegation was his first, but the file could contain information to the contrary, Murphy said.
One psychological report said Corbesero voluntarily left the priesthood to marry and "absolutely" denied any previous incidents of a similar nature, according to Murphy's affidavit.
The information in the personnel file could be relevant if the defendant testifies "I've never done this before," Murphy said.
While the defense attorney argued against the file's relevance 30 years later, Murphy contested the state is entitled to gather evidence anywhere it can find it, leaving the defense to argue its relevance later.
Defense attorney Mitchell Ignatoff asked the judge to refuse the motion, insisting there is no evidence of prior criminal conduct.
"The state is asking for something that may have happened 30 years ago," Ignatoff said. "I consider it defamatory."
Ignatoff wanted Armstrong to order the state to reveal the informant's identity, insisting the individual may have violated Corbesero's privacy, a request Murphy denounced, arguing the state wants people to provide information, and protection of the informant is in the public's interest.
Armstrong refused both requests, saying the state failed to show how the information would help with the present indictment. Without the file, there is no need to reveal the identity, the judge said.
Officials for the Consolata Society would not relinquish the file without a court order. Attorney Michael Rutter was in court yesterday on their behalf.
Corbesero has not been associated with the missions since 1979, Rutter told the judge. The Consolata Fathers believe "any person would have some expectation of privacy," when it comes to their personnel file.
The society is not part of the Diocese of Metuchen, but is a Catholic mission, said diocesan spokeswoman Joanne Ward.
Rutter later explained that the society is an organization that was founded in Italy. Most of their missionary work is in impoverished areas, including parts of Africa and South America. Their North American headquarters is in Franklin.
The victim reported the Aug. 16 incident to police shortly after the alleged encounter, and Corbesero confirmed the assault when investigators confronted him. His attorney is seeking a plea deal.
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