|Judge Won't Reconsider Bail for Accused Priest, Doctor
Reverend in Custody on $750,000 Bail; Doctor Free Despite Da's Request to Increase $25,000 Fee
By Dennis Taylor
April 23, 2009
Attorneys in two high-profile sexual assault cases asked Superior Court Judge Adrienne Grover to reconsider the amount of their bail Wednesday, but the judge declined to make adjustments in either matter.
The Rev. Antonio Cortes, a priest at St. Mary of the Nativity Catholic Church in Salinas, remains in custody at Monterey County Jail on $750,000 bail while facing 12 misdemeanor counts of child molestation, plus one count each of felony sodomy, child cruelty, providing alcohol to a minor and performing immoral acts before a child.
Dr. Carl Bergstrom, a Carmel internist, is free on $25,000 bail while he answers to a felony charge of sodomy against a woman who told sheriff's deputies she was assaulted at his home April 14.
Both defendants pleaded not guilty to all charges. Both cases have been reassigned to the courtroom of Judge Russell Scott, and the men are due back in court at 10 a.m. May 1 for preliminary hearings.
Cortes' attorneys, Miguel and J. Hernandez, will ask Scott to impose a gag order to limit publicity in the case. That hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. Friday.
The unusually high $750,000 bail for Cortes was originally imposed by Judge Marla Anderson at the urging of Salinas police, who argued that he is a danger to the community and a flight risk. A typical bail amount for such a case is $75,000.
Cortes, 41, is accused of sex acts with a 16-year-old boy who was seeing him for counseling during the previous two years, beginning while Cortes was pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield.
Prosecutor Rolando Mazariegos said police gathered evidence that includes tapes of two "pretext" calls placed between the boy and Cortes, during which Cortes allegedly admitted to some of the behavior the boy reported.
Mazariegos said the boy's story is corroborated by items seized from the priest's quarters, including boxer shorts with colors and designs described by the boy. Police said they found images of shirtless boys on Cortes' cell phone, and evidence on the priest's computer that he visited gay pornography sites.
Grover said her decision to leave the $750,000 bail in place was based on concerns that Cortes owns no property, has no family in the area and has a penchant for travel, and therefore constitutes a flight risk. She said investigators haven't determined whether there are more victims.
The hearings attracted an overflow crowd of spectators, filling every seat in the courtroom and spilling deep into the lobby. Grover allowed the doors to her courtroom to remain open during the proceedings so more people could observe.
The majority of the spectators were there to support Cortes. Most came from his congregation in Salinas and his previous church in Greenfield, but some traveled from as far away as Mexico.
"I'm here today to support Father Cortes. He's a great person, a great priest and an advocate for all families in the community," said Lupe Silva, a member of St. Mary of the Nativity Church. "He has worked very hard to bring peace to the streets of Salinas for a very long time. He's been out there at the marches, alongside mothers who have lost their children to violence. We all love him."
Church member Maricela Ibarra of Salinas said she believes the accusations are false.
"I've known him since 1998. He has supported my family for many years," she said. "I believe he is innocent. I believe the charges are not true."
DA's request refused
Bergstrom, 52, was arrested April 14 after sheriff's deputies received a call at 3:15 a.m. from a woman who claimed she was attacked inside his Carmel home in the 24000 block of San Juan Road.
Deputies found the woman hiding in bushes outside his house and transported her to a hospital, police said.
Monterey County Sheriff's Office spokesman Cmdr. Mike Richards said the woman was not Bergstrom's patient, and apparently met him earlier that night.
The district attorney's office asked for the doctor's bail to be boosted to at least $100,000, but Grover sided with defense attorney Tom Worthington, who noted that Bergstrom has been a resident and physician in Carmel for many years, with an active medical practice, children who live in the area, numerous friends in the community and no previous criminal history.
Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.