Accused Deacon Has Bail Reduced

By Lila Fujimoto
The Maui News [Hawaii]
August 2, 2005

WAILUKU With dozens of parishioners of St. Ann Church in Waihee filling a courtroom gallery Monday, a judge reduced bail to $100,000 for Deacon Ron Gonsalves, who is charged with multiple counts of sexually abusing a boy.

"He has tremendous support in the community, as evidenced by many members of the congregation of St. Ann's here today who love him and care for him," said defense attorney Philip Lowenthal, who argued for bail to be reduced from $790,000.

He said Gonsalves' family was prepared to post $100,000 in cash bail.

Following the court hearing, Gonsalves, 68, was released on bail from the Maui Community Correctional Center. He had been jailed since his arrest Wednesday, when he turned himself in at the Wailuku Police Station.

The Wailuku resident has pleaded not guilty to 62 counts of sexual assault of the boy over a three-year period ending in June. The boy was 12 when the alleged sexual assaults began, occurring at Gonsalves' home and at the church, police said.

As a condition of Gonsalves' release on bail, he was ordered not to go within one mile of St. Ann Church. Second Circuit Judge Shackley Raffetto ordered Gonsalves to stay in his house, except to meet with his lawyer at his office.

The judge also ordered Gonsalves to have no contact with minors, including the boy and the child's family.

After the hearing, Deputy Prosecutor Robert Rivera said he was satisfied with the conditions, as well as the judge's requirement that the bail be posted in cash. If Gonsalves had used a bondsman to post bail, he could have been released by paying a smaller amount but wouldn't have been able to get the money back following the conclusion of the court case, Rivera said.

Gonsalves, a lifelong Maui resident, began working full time with the church after retiring from Hawaiian Airlines, Lowenthal said.

Ordained as a deacon, Gonsalves had been administrator of St. Ann until he was placed on administrative leave June 22 after the allegations surfaced. Since then, he has not been allowed to perform ministerial duties.

Lowenthal said Gonsalves contacted police and the prosecutor's office after learning of the allegations, arranging to surrender after hearing he had been indicted.

While Lowenthal said Gonsalves wasn't a flight risk or danger to the community, Rivera disagreed and asked the judge to keep bail at $790,000.

Rivera noted that the charges against Gonsalves included 32 counts of first-degree sexual assault. A conviction on the charge carries a 20-year prison term. But if Gonsalves were convicted of multiple charges, the penalty could be extended to a term of life in prison with the possibility of parole, Rivera said.

Similarly, he said five-year prison terms for each of the 30 counts of third-degree sexual assault could be extended to 10-year terms.

"That would give him the motive to flee, in spite of all that support," Rivera said.

He said the charges against Gonsalves involved only one victim that the prosecution was currently aware of. "We have received more information, which may be investigated in the near future," Rivera said.

He noted that the most recent of the charges against Gonsalves were for incidents occurring June 14 at the church.

"This defendant continues to be a danger to children, especially to the young victim in this case," Rivera said.

More than 40 parishioners were in the courtroom to show support for Gonsalves at his bail hearing Monday. Several church members have said they believe Gonsalves is innocent.

"These charges are easily made and hard to disprove," Ben Lowenthal, law clerk for Philip Lowenthal, said after the hearing.

Rivera said people should be cautious about how their reaction to the charges might affect other young victims of crime.

"My greatest concern is when the public reacts like this, it causes other victims to have second thoughts about coming forward," Rivera said. "It can affect the way children view the adult world.

"Our examples do speak volumes to our younger citizens who are victims of crime."

At the request of both the prosecution and the defense, the indictment against Gonsalves has been sealed until a copy is filed omitting the boy's name and the specific sexual acts alleged.

Gonsalves' trial is scheduled for Sept. 26.