Ex-Priest Withdraws Guilty Plea in AOL Sex Case

North Country Gazette
August 23, 2006

Mineola — Thomas Bender, 71, an ex-priest from Pennsylvania who pleaded guilty in March to six counts of felony attempted disseminating indecent material to minors in the first degree, has moved to vacate his guilty plea in light of a recent appellate court decision that narrowly defined the dissemination law as valid only if "sexual images" are used to "depict" sexual conduct.

"I hope this isn't the first case in our jurisdiction to fall victim to this appellate decision," said Nassau County district attorney Kathleen Rice. "We need this law to combat sexual predators and to keep our children safe."

Rice went on to say that "words can often times be more useful to predators than pictures. The defendants build relationships with their victims through long-term conversations and those conversations generally don't involve pictures."

Bender filed his motion Wednesday with Nassau County Court Judge John L. Kase in Mineola. The district attorney's office has until the next court date for Bender, Sept. 15, to respond to the motion.

In March, Bender was arrested by the Nassau County Police Department following his involvement in an on-line discussion of a sexual nature with a detective who was posing as a 14-year-old boy. Following the AOL Instant Message conversations with the detective, the defendant attempted to meet the "14-year-old boy" at an undisclosed Nassau County location, where he was arrested by the Nassau County Police Department.

Bender was indicted by a Nassau County Grand Jury in May on six counts of attempted disseminating indecent material to minors in the first degree, six counts of attempted criminal sexual a Act in the third degree and seven counts attempted endangering the welfare of a child.

In July, Bender pleaded guilty to the indictment.

Last month, in People v Kozlow, the Appellate Division, Second Department, dismissed an indictment by a Westchester County grand jury against a Manhattan lawyer accused of disseminating indecent material to a minor. They ruled that the "The People failed to establish that the defendant's internet communications with an undercover police officer whom he believed to be a minor "depict [ed]" sexual conduct within the meaning of Penal Law 235.22(1), since they contained no visual, "sexual images" (People v Foley, 94 NY2d 668, 681, cert denied 531 US 875; see Penal Law 235.21 [1], [2]). Accordingly, the judgment must be reversed and the indictment dismissed."

District Attorney Rice has recommended the maximum term of incarceration, 24 years, for Bender.

Bender's misdemeanor charges, for which the defendant faces a maximum of two years of incarceration, are not the subject of the defendant's recent motion.

ADA Stephen Treglia, Chief of the Cyber Crime Unit, is handling the case for the Nassau County District Attorney's Office.

Bender is being represented by Legal Aid. 8-23-06


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