Former Pastor Denied Release; Prosecutor Says Dino Cardelli Made Admissions to Law Enforcement

By Thadeus Greenson
The Times-Standard
September 16, 2010

A former Arcata pastor facing child molestation charges made admissions to law enforcement about his sexual relationship with a minor, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Dino Cardelli, 49, of McKinleyville, who served as the pastor of First Calvary Church of Arcata until his resignation Tuesday, was arrested last week after the alleged victim in the case made a report to officials at her school. Cardelli pleaded not guilty Tuesday to four felony counts, including committing the recurring sexual abuse of a child under the age of 14, one count of committing lewd and lascivious acts with a minor and two counts of oral copulation with a minor.

Humboldt County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Brenda Godsey has said detectives believe there to be only one victim in the case.

During a hearing Wednesday, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen denied Cardelli's release on his own recognizance, citing the serious nature of the charges facing the former church leader.

The hearing started on an odd note, with Reinholtsen saying that Cardelli's bail had been lowered to $250,000 after Tuesday's arraignment. The news seemed to surprise both attorneys in the case, who believed the bail had remained as initially set at $750,000.

Reinholtsen later reinstated Cardelli's bail to $750,000, and agreed to set a bail reduction hearing for Tuesday, when Cardelli's attorney, Mark Bruce, is expected to argue that a lower bail is appropriate in the case.

During Wednesday's hearing, Bruce asked that Cardelli be released on his own recognizance, arguing that his client has lived in the area for many years, has adult children that live in the area, and because "it appears, based on the police report, that no force was used in the alleged crime."

Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Kelly Neel strongly opposed Cardelli's release, noting that her office would have filed a motion seeking to increase Cardelli's bail if it had known the amount had been lowered to $250,000.

Neel told the court that Cardelli is a flight risk, saying he allegedly told family members that if authorities ever found out about his alleged actions that he would flee to Canada.

"The people have reason to believe that if Mr. Cardelli posted bail he would pick up his minor victim and do just that," Neel told the court.

Neel went on to allege that Cardelli holds a place of power and control over his alleged victim -- a minor who lived in his home -- and that he "groomed her" and began having intercourse with her when she was 13. At one point, Neel said, the girl in the case believed she was pregnant. Neel also told the court that Dino Cardelli's wife, Nancy Cardelli, began having suspicions that her husband was molesting the minor.

Nancy Cardelli committed suicide on March 21, 2010, by overdosing on the over-the-counter medication Diphenhydramine, according to the Humboldt County Coroner's Office. According to the coroner's report, Dino Cardelli told Deputy Coroner Charles Comer that his wife had been "having some issues with ... their marriage and depression."

Neel told the court the people believe Nancy Cardelli's suicide was "directly related to the trauma she was enduring" at home. Neel said Dino Cardelli's alleged sexual relationship with the minor ceased after Nancy Cardelli's death, but said Dino Cardelli "acknowledged that it did occur" when interviewed by investigators in this case.

In response, Bruce remained adamant that his client should be considered for release on his own recognizance and said his client denied having ever made any comments about fleeing the area. Already, Bruce said, Dino Cardelli had a chance to flee, but did not.

"He knew he was going to be arrested, but chose not to (run)," Bruce said, adding that his client "gave a statement that did not deny culpability," and that the alleged conduct had stopped months prior to Dino Cardelli's arrest.

According to the Calvary Chapel website, Dino and Nancy Cardelli moved to Humboldt County in 1994 to open the church, which had its first Sunday service in January 1995. Tuesday, the church board of trustees issued a statement saying that it was praying for Dino Cardelli and his family, and noting that the church had accepted the pastor's resignation and that he is no longer associated with the church.

In a message left for the Times-Standard late Tuesday, Bruce said it's too early for him to make any statements regarding the case.

"I think the only thing we can say is that Mr. Cardelli wants to make sure the public does not think that anything he is accused of is a reflection on any of the organizations that he has been a part of," Bruce said, adding that he'd just received the police report in the case. "We're going to litigate this case until we can reach a fair and appropriate resolution for all parties involved."

All parties in the case are due back in court Tuesday.

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