Teen sues Mid-Michigan priest accused of sexual abuse

By Jessica Royce
March 13, 2018

Robert DeLand

A teen is suing a Mid-Michigan priest, accusing him of engaging in "grooming" behavior before groping the boy at his condo. 

Fr. Robert DeLand was charged last month with criminal sexual conduct after accusations from two males following an undercover investigation.

According to lawsuit filed on Monday, March 13, the teen, referred to as John Doe, met DeLand at a friend’s funeral in May 2017 when he was 16-years-old. The teen was court ordered to perform community service at St. Agnes Church where DeLand was a priest.

When the teen returned to school in the fall, DeLand was a volunteer “greeter” at Freeland Community School District and often participated in school events.

The lawsuit claims DeLand would allegedly remove the teen from class, “taking him to an isolated area of the school to talk,” and making the teen late for on a daily basis.

“DeLand also made inappropriate physical contact with John Doe during the school day, including back rubs, hugs and groping of the buttocks,” according to the court documents.

The lawsuit also claims DeLand engaged in “grooming” behavior toward the teen by “targeting the minor child, gaining his trust and / or providing him with gifts and favors.” DeLand allegedly asked the teen about his parent’s financial situation, then gave him gifts of cash and bought the teen a “vape” machine, according to the documents.

In October 2017, DeLand allegedly asked to the teen to come to his condominium at Mallard Cove in Saginaw Township to watch his dog. The lawsuit claims DeLand forced the teen to smoke cigarettes with him, encouraged the teen to get ecstasy so they could “party together at the Mallard Cove condo,” and encouraged the teen to watch gay porn.

According to the lawsuit, after Christmas of 2017, Deland allegedly began calling and texting the teen frequently, sometimes 17-20 times a day.

“DeLand notified John Doe that he had set up a special bedroom in his Mallard Cove condominium, which was available for use by John Doe,” according to the documents.

The lawsuit claims in Feb. 2018, DeLand touched the teen inappropriately, “groping and fondling his crotch and buttocks, feet and toes.”

The teen is seeking at least $75,000 in damages, according to the court documents.

The suit also names the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw and Bishop Joseph Cistone, claiming the teen came forward about DeLand’s inappropriate behavior but no action was taken.

Since charges against the 71-year-old priest were issued, police said they have received a number of tips regarding alleged abuse. The allegations stretch from the 1970s to present day, according to Assistant Prosecutor Attorney Mark Gaertner.


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