Where’s ‘Father Manuel’? Police hunting fugitive priest, teacher accused of raping N.J. teen


By Mark Mueller | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on July 30, 2015

Twelve years ago, amid allegations he raped a 15-year-old boy in the rectory of a Plainfield church, the Rev. Manuel Gallo Espinoza vanished.

The Archdiocese of Newark, where Gallo Espinoza had served as a visiting priest, said he apparently fled to his native Ecuador after church officials informed him of the claim and suspended him from ministry.

Authorities never interviewed him. Within months, the investigation went dark.

Now, with the filing of a lawsuit by his alleged victim and an examination by NJ Advance Media, federal and county authorities have expressed renewed interest in finding and questioning the 51-year-old priest.

The NJ Advance Media investigation — drawing on law enforcement documents, public records and interviews — found that Gallo Espinoza obtained a visa to return to the United States in 2005. Three years later, unbeknownst to authorities in New Jersey, the man accused of raping a teenage boy took a job as a high school teacher in Prince George’s County, Md., the inquiry found.

Gallo Espinoza abruptly left the post in February of last year, a spokesman for the district confirmed. The spokesman, Max Pugh, said he could not disclose the reason for the departure because it was a personnel matter. Pugh said he was unaware of any allegation of sexual misconduct involving the former teacher.

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