Ex-Priest Admits Seeking Sex from Child

By John Moreno Gonzales
am New York [Long Island NY]
February 28, 2007,0,1050759.story?coll=ny-ap-regional-wire

A 73-year-old defrocked priest who authorities said came to Long Island intending to have sex with a 14-year-old boy pleaded guilty Wednesday to the federal charge of enticing a minor, after local charges collapsed under emerging definitions of Internet sex crime.

Thomas J. Bender, who in court papers admitted he was banned from the Roman Catholic church after a 1988 conviction in the Allentown, Pa. area for soliciting a minor, pleaded guilty to the felony and faces at least five years in prison.

The former cleric appeared befuddled by the nature of the charge in U.S. District Court in Central Islip when Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein asked him to confess so she could formally accept the plea.

In barely audible tones, Bender explained how he had Internet "chats" with someone he thought was 14. It turned out to be a Nassau County Police detective who had posed as a minor.

"I haven't heard 'persuaded,' 'enticed,' 'coerced.' I've heard about a chat," Feuerstein said. Bender tried three more times to admit to intent, each time conferring with defense attorney Tracey L. Gaffey on what to say.

After the judge suggested "Maybe we should just let the trial go" ahead, prosecutor Allen Bode asked Bender whether he chatted with someone he thought was a boy with the intent of meeting him for sex. Bender answered yes and the judge accepted the plea.

Bender was arrested in March when he arrived at a Levittown pizza restaurant and was met by police instead of the boy he thought would be waiting, authorities said. He later pleaded guilty to six state counts of attempted disseminating indecent material to minors.

But a state appeals court decision in an unrelated case made prosecuting him difficult when it ruled that e-mails to children "depict" indecency only if they include pictures. Bender's e-mails included only sexual language.

In August, Bender's attorney submitted a motion to throw out the Nassau charges under the appeals findings. But the motion, which is still pending, became moot when federal prosecutors decided to charge Bender.



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