Prosecution Rests in Sex Abuse Trial against Windber Priest
By Paul Peirce
September 16, 2015
Federal prosecutors rested their case Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Johnstown in the criminal trial of a Somerset County Catholic priest accused of traveling to Honduras to have sex with orphaned boys under the guise of doing charity work.
Judge Kim Gibson instructed the jury of seven men and five women to return to court at 1:30 p.m. Thursday to begin hearing the defense for the priest, the Rev. Joseph D. Maurizio of Windber.
Maurizio, 70, was the pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Central City until his arrest Sept. 25 on multiple federal charges.
Maurizio is accused of traveling to Central America for his self-run nonprofit, Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries, between 2004 to 2009 to have sex with boys at a mission orphanage.
Federal officials said Maurizio promised the boys cash and candy to watch them shower, have sex or fondle them.
Maurizio is charged with four counts of engaging in illicit conduct in foreign places, one count of child pornography and three counts of transporting, transmitting or transferring funds into or out of the United States with the intent to promote unlawful activity.
He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
During five days of testimony, jurors heard from two Hondurans, now adults, who said that Maurizio sexually abused them when he visited the ProNino orphanage about twice a year. The alleged victims testified in Spanish before the jury with the assistance of a government interpreter.
A third alleged victim called by the government to testify against Maurizio recanted his story on the witness stand Tuesday. The man said the priest never abused him and described him as “a gentleman” when he visited.
The man said he lied to agents from the Department of Homeland Security last year during an interview at a hotel in Honduras because he felt pressured and wanted to leave.
On Wednesday, prosecutors called Homeland Security forensic interviewer Alexandra Levi, who defended the methods she used when she interviewed the men.
When the government rested its case, Maurizio's attorney, Steven Passarello of Altoona, asked Gibson to dismiss all eight criminal charges.
Passarello pointed to the alleged victim who recanted his allegations on the witness stand and a second alleged victim telling an investigator for Maurizio that he made up the abuse allegation. He maintained prosecutors failed to specifically tie any money raised by Maurizio's foundation to buying sexual favors from the Hondurans as alleged in the indictment.
The prosecutors, Amy Larson of the U.S. Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and Stephanie Haines, an assistant U.S. Attorney, countered Passarello's claims. They said the government has presented sufficient evidence from multiple other witnesses and that a jury should decide all eight criminal counts.
Gibson said he would rule on Passarello's motion before testimony begins Thursday.
Maurizio has been held in the Cambria County Jail since his arrest.
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.