Somerset County Priest Found Guilty of Molesting Honduran Orphans
By Torsten Ove
September 22, 2015
A priest in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown was found guilty Tuesday of sexually abusing three orphan boys during trips to Honduras between 2004 and 2009.
After an eight-day jury trial in U.S. District Court in Johnstown, Joseph D. Maurizio Jr., 70, of Somerset County, was convicted of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, possession of child pornography and international money laundering. Father Maurizio, who faces life in prison, is to be sentenced Feb. 2.
Father Maurizio, the suspended pastor at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Central City, was arrested a year ago.
The Justice Department said the priest was known as the “money man” who used cash from a charity he created to fund trips to a ProNino orphanage, where he paid boys for sex acts.
Father Maurizio’s lawyer, Steven Passarello, had argued that the prosecution failed to prove its case and pointed out that the FBI had examined the same facts in 2009 without taking action. It was the Department of Homeland Security that pursued the case last year.
The hopes of his defense received a boost last week when one of the three alleged victims, who is now 24, recanted on the stand and said Father Maurizio never molested him.
Two other Honduran men, however, testified the priest either abused them or offered them cash and gifts for sex or explicit photos during missions. The victims told agents that Father Maurizio, in addition to coercing them with candy, money, clothes and jewelry, photographed them nude and offered money to them to masturbate while he took photos.
Federal investigators searching the rectory of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church recovered digital media depicting the boys Father Maurizio abused, and images of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct.
Prosecutors said Father Maurizio created a charity, known as Honduras Interfaith Ministries, which was the largest donor to ProNino, a nonprofit organization that provided shelter and rehabilitative services to poor, abandoned and at-risk children in a rural town outside of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Father Maurizio used his position to gain unfettered access to the boys who lived there, they said.
He also used his financial clout to try to keep what he was doing a secret, the Justice Department said.
“The jury’s conviction affirms the courage of these victims, the tenacity of the investigators, and the resolve of our prosecutors to ensure justice,” U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton said in a statement released after the verdict.
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.