WASHINGTON (WJLA) — The 7 On Your Side I-Team has confirmed a New Jersey priest accused in a civil lawsuit of sexually abusing a minor has ties to local schools. Manuel Gallo-Espinoza has never been criminally charged. His church believed he fled the country more than a decade ago, but ABC 7 discovered Gallo-Espinoza spent nine years teaching children in our area, although there were no accusations of wrongdoing during his time in two area facilities.
Becky Ianni waited 40 years to deal with the abuse she says she suffered at the hands of the Alexandria priest that became a family friend. She said, "I was told I'd go to hell if I told on this priest."
Ianni eventually spoke up, coming forward decades after her abuser committed suicide. She received a settlement from the church, but not justice. That's what she helps others try to find through SNAP, The Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests.
"It's to let victims know they're not alone and to encourage them to go to prosecutors," Ianni said.
The Burke, Virginia resident's most recent cause involves Manuel Gallo-Espinoza, spotted in a Visa photo obtained by NJ.com, which first reported on his case. Records obtained by the 7 On Your Side I-Team show the priest was removed from his post in 2003 following allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.
The church believed he fled home to Ecuador, but we discovered he turned up in the DC. area. 7 On Your Side has confirmed Gallo-Espinoza spent nearly 10 years working as a teacher in two local school districts. He spent three years at Beville Middle School in Prince William County, where a spokesman says he taught English as a second language. Then Gallo-Espinoza moved to Prince George's County, where he spent six years at Parkdale High School. There have been no reported incidents of misconduct during his time at the schools.
"It's scary to me that he's never been charged but he's been working in environments with children," Ianni said, "I worry about the other victims that could possibly be out there. I worry they are suffering in silence, are they afraid to come forward."
Gallo-Espinoza's home church, St. Mary's in New Jersey, posted an announcement in its March bulletin asking anyone aware of the priest's whereabouts to come forward and contact authorities. Gallo-Espinoza appears to have responded himself, posting a statement on NJ.com, saying he doesn't consider himself a pedophile, that his accuser is not telling the truth and that he didn't do anything the victim didn't want. He also apologized and said he learned his lesson. The 7 On Your Side I-Team attempted to reach Gallo-Espinoza for comment but was unsuccessful.
Gallo-Espinoza's accuser, who made the claim of abuse back in 2003, filed a civil lawsuit in the spring against the priest and the Archdiocese of Newark. The Archdiocese said it couldn't comment as a result of the pending litigation. 7 On Your Side also contacted the Office of the Prosecutor in Union County. Its spokesman wouldn't confirm whether there is an active investigation into Gallo-Espinoza.