Extradition Red Tape Stalls Hunt for Fugitive Priest Ochoa

By Martin Espinoza
Press Democrat [California]
February 2, 2007

It has been nine months since the Rev. Francisco Xavier Ochoa slipped across the U.S.-Mexico border after admitting he had sexual contact with three boys, an admission that led to 10 felony charges.

A federal warrant for his arrest was issued, but the effort to bring in the fugitive priest has been stalled in red tape at the Justice Department and the search has yet to begin.

Is anyone looking for Ochoa?

"I don't believe so ... because there's a process that needs to be completed first," Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Joan Risse said Thursday.

The District Attorney's Office said further details about the extradition process could not be released for fear of jeopardizing the investigation.

"This is a top priority for everyone in this county," said Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook. District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua was unavailable for comment Thursday afternoon.

"We think that citizens wouldn't want us to release any information that would jeopardize law enforcement's ability to apprehend him and bring him back to this jurisdiction for prosecution," Cook said.

Ochoa, who was a priest at St. Francis Solano Church in Sonoma, is wanted on 10 felony counts that allege lewd conduct with three minors, including forcible sodomy and forcible oral copulation.

One victim, a 12-year-old boy, allegedly stripped naked before Ochoa at the priest's Sonoma apartment across the street from his church.

The other two cases involve adult males who said they were molested nearly two decades ago. If convicted of offenses involving two or more victims, Ochoa could face a life prison sentence.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City declined to comment on details about Ochoa's case or the status of the extradition request. The spokesman, who asked that his name not be used, citing "law enforcement sensitivities," referred all questions to the Justice Department in Washington.

Jaclyn Lesch, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Lesch, who could not be reached by phone, said through an e-mail sent Wednesday, "We do not comment on matters of extradition or our dealings with foreign governments."

Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Tom Figmik, based in San Francisco, also declined to comment on the case, saying he did not want to jeopardize law enforcement's pursuit of Ochoa.

"This is a Sonoma County case," he said. "I'm not going to comment on their investigation."

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national support group known as SNAP, said a lengthy extradition process is not unusual.

But he said the Catholic Church should be doing more to locate him.

"California bishops and Mexican bishops could and should put notices in every parish bulletin, diocesan newspaper, diocesan Web site immediately, begging church members and staff to speak up if they know anything about his possible whereabouts," Clohessy said.

Bishop Daniel Walsh could not be reached for comment through Santa Rosa Diocese spokeswoman Deirdre Frontczak. Walsh is participating in a court-ordered diversion program, undergoing counseling for failing to report Ochoa's activities in a timely manner to law enforcement authorities.

In more than a half-dozen letters to diocese officials, including Walsh, dating from 2001 to early 2006, the mother of one of Ochoa's alleged victims complained about Ochoa, pleading that he be kept away from her family.

When revelations of sexual misconduct surfaced last year, Walsh removed Ochoa, but a three-day delay in reporting the allegations may have allowed Ochoa time to flee to Mexico.

Diocesan attorney Dan Galvin said Thursday that local church officials have done what they could to contact Mexican church officials and alert them about Ochoa.

"We immediately notified the Guadalajara Diocese and the archbishop down there back in May and requested his assistance," Galvin said. "We communicated with an individual who was Father Ochoa's sister and requested her assistance in locating her brother and in getting him to come back to Sonoma County."

Galvin said diocesan officials have no jurisdiction in Mexico, but they've done everything they can to cooperate with law enforcement's search for him.

"We're not experts in the extradition process and we figured that the authorities are doing everything they can," he said.

Eric Barragan, director of SNAP's operations in Mexico, said he traveled to Mexico in early November to ask that Mexico's highest-ranking church official, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, do more to locate Ochoa and other fugitive priests.

Barragan said he reached out to members of Mexico's congress for help in finding not only Ochoa, but such fugitive priests as the Rev. Nicolás Aguilar, who has been accused of molesting and brutally raping dozens of children in Los Angeles.

Members of the Mexican congress, said Barragan, "are aware and they said they're waiting for action from the United States."


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