Appeals court upholds Somerset priest's molestation convictions

By Brian Bowling
July 25, 2017

The Rev. Joseph Maurizio is led out of the courtroom in shackles by U.S. Marshalls on Wednesday, March 2, 2016, to an awaiting elevator after he was sentenced to 16 years 8 months of federal prison after being found guilty of sexually abusing children at a Honduran orphanage.

The Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr.

A federal jury had enough evidence to convict a Somerset County priest on charges of molesting Honduran orphans, an appeals court has ruled.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest defeat for the Rev. Joseph Maurizio, 71, who contends he is innocent.

Maurizio is incarcerated at a low-security federal prison in Ohio with a projected release date of April 2029, according to Bureau of Prison records.

His appeal attorney, Thomas J. Farrell, and the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on the latest ruling. A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown couldn't be reached.

The appellate court Monday also denied Maurizio's motion for a new trial based on the government withholding favorable evidence it obtained near the end of his 2015 trial.

Maurizio used a self-run charity based in Johnstown, Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries, to visit a ProNino orphanage near San Pedro Sula numerous times between 1999 and 2009, prosecutors said. He offered the boys candy and cash to watch them shower, fondle them and have sex with them, prosecutors said.

The jury convicted Maurizio on five charges in September 2015 after a 10-day trial. U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson subsequently acquitted Maurizio on one of the charges but upheld the others and sentenced him to 16 years and eight months in prison.

Maurizio appealed that ruling to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In his appeal, Maurizio claimed the government's case was too weak to sustain his conviction on two counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, possession of child pornography and transferring money out of the United States to promote a crime.

The government's case mainly consisted of testimony by victims and children who witnessed the encounters. Maurizio claimed that inconsistencies in their testimony as to the dates, times and duration of the sexual encounters undermined their credibility.

The government provided expert testimony that sexual abuse victims are often confused on those points.

Maurizio claimed that one victim contradicted his trial testimony in a victim-impact statement he gave the government after the defense rested but before the jury returned with a verdict. The government didn't provide that statement to the defense for several months, which prevented it from asking the court to reopen the case so the evidence could have been presented to the jury before it reached a verdict, his appeal argued.

The government contends the victim was consistent in his testimony that the priest paid him money to fondle him but said in his victim-impact statement that people think Maurizio “really abused” him, “but that was not the case.”

The victim was differentiating fondling from intercourse, but wasn't claiming the priest didn't fondle him, prosecutors said.

Gibson and the appeals court said the government should have turned over the statement but agreed it didn't undermine the jury's verdict.



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