Ex-Santa Fe priest Balizan allowed to await trial from home

Santa Fe New Mexican

July 4, 2023

By Nicholas Gilmore

Longtime Santa Fe priest Daniel Balizan, facing federal charges of sex abuse of a minor, will await trial at his home in Springer, a judge has ruled.

Federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing in Albuquerque on Monday ordered Balizan to be released from custody to house arrest with electronic monitoring.

Balizan, who for a decade was a pastor at Santa Maria de la Paz Catholic Community in Santa Fe before he was removed by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 2022, is accused of enticement of a minor with the intent to engage in sexual activity during a relationship prosecutors allege he carried on with a 15-year-old boy in 2012.

Balizan was arrested June 29 in Springer.

Federal prosecutors had argued Balizan should be placed in a halfway house in the run-up to the trial, writing the weight of evidence in the case “favors detention.”

Balizan, who has pleaded not guilty, faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison if he is convicted.

That Balizan, who has not previously spent time in custody, faces such a significant sentence gives him “nothing but incentive to flee,” prosecutors wrote, suggesting a halfway house as a “fair resolution.”

The risk of Balizan potentially fleeing could not “be mitigated with the use of location monitoring,” prosecutors argued, because such technology would only alert pre-trial services personnel and the court after he’d left.

Prosecutors contended the evidence against Balizan was “overwhelming and substantial,” including thousands of text messages between him and the alleged victim, who is referred to in court documents as “John Doe.”

Attorney Dan Cron, who is representing Balizan, said his client is “not a flight risk” in a phone interview Tuesday.

“We have known for six months about the likelihood of these federal charges,” Cron said. “He stayed, and he is facing the allegations.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing ordered Balizan to the custody of his brother Tony Balizan, with electronic monitoring.

Daniel Balizan had served as a priest at the Santa Fe church from 2012 to August 2022, when he was removed from his position. Since that time, he has lived in Springer and worked at a small motel he co-owns, court records state.

Prosecutors noted “it is precisely his close ties to the community and position within the Church” that allegedly provided him access to the alleged victim and Balizan “is the latest example of a sexual predator who has managed to assimilate and go largely unnoticed in the community.”

In a request for detention before Balizan’s trial, prosecutors included text messages they said Balizan sent to the alleged victim in 2012.

The text messages “are exhibitive of textbook sexual grooming behavior” and “represent a gross misuse of his position of trust to coerce John Doe into sexual acts,” prosecutors wrote.

On Sept. 4, 2012, prosecutors contend Balizan wrote: “… I am paranoid.. I don’t want my name all over the papers or my reputation ruined because I fell in love with a minor.”

Prosecutors allege another text later that month included this passage: “Like I told you before, I only feel bad because of your age … if you were 18 or over, I wouldn’t feel bad at all because I do love you.”

In a third text from the time period, Balizan allegedly wrote: “… I want to be faithful to my promise of celibacy, but desire to be more intimate with you.”

By early September 2012, prosecutors allege Balizan used the teenage victim “to perform sexual acts on him” at Santa Maria de la Paz.

“He also encouraged John Doe to delete his text messages,” prosecutors wrote. “There is simply no question that [Balizan] knew John Doe was a minor when he engaged him in sexual activity.”

The alleged victim filed a lawsuit against Balizan seeking damages for battery and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” related to the alleged sex abuse that occurred in 2012.

As a result of the alleged abuse from Balizan, the alleged victim — who now lives in Tennessee — has suffered “psychological injury, emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of self-esteem, depression and other damages,” according to the lawsuit. “His trust in religion and in authority figures has been seriously breached.”