Utah Priest in Web Case Leaves U.S.

By Linda Thomson
Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah)
November 7, 2003

OGDEN — A Catholic priest who pleaded no contest to enticing a minor over the Internet for sex apparently has left for his native Colombia, much to the dismay of prosecutors who wanted the man to spend a year in jail before being deported.

Prosecutor Gary Heward expected Mario Arbelaez Olarte, a priest who formerly worked at St. Joseph Catholic Church, to show up Tuesday for sentencing. But Bernie Allen, Olarte's attorney, said he had gotten an e-mail from Olarte that he was in Colombia.

The two attorneys verbally sparred over the terms of a plea bargain for Olarte, and 2nd District Judge Scott M. Hadley eventually issued a no-bail bench warrant for Olarte's arrest. The judge postponed sentencing until Nov. 18.

However, Allen later said the warrant would not be effective because any warrant issued for a class A misdemeanor cannot extend beyond Utah's borders. "They couldn't extradite him from Idaho, much less Colombia," he said.

Allen contends the plea bargain document said Olarte could be held in jail pending deportation by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly Immigration and Naturalization Service), but nothing precluded Olarte from voluntarily leaving the United States. "He did exactly what he said he'd do when I came and entered the plea," Allen said. "The agreement was he would be deported immediately."

Not so, according to Heward. The prosecutor said he expected Olarte to show up for the court date the judge had ordered and be sentenced, then Heward would ask for a yearlong jail sentence before Olarte would be deported. Heward said a presentence report also recommended a one-year jail term.

"He violated the public trust because he committed a crime — why shouldn't there be jail time?" Heward asked.

The prosecutor added there was information that Olarte had possessed child pornography and had engaged in sexual solicitations on the Internet for months before being arrested. Heward said no child-porn-possession charges were filed against Olarte because there was some question as to whether the computer or the particular pornography were his.

The defense attorney and prosecutor also disagreed about what Olarte was doing around the time he was arrested. Allen insists Olarte was simply doing research after being approached by parishioners concerned about what was going on in Internet chat rooms.

"I don't buy it at all," Heward responded.

The Catholic Diocese earlier had suspended Olarte from priestly duties and withdrew its support of his visa.

Olarte was arrested May 14 after communicating with a 15-year-old "boy" in a chat room and arranging to meet, only to be confronted by a police officer.


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