Catholic Priest "Father Bob" Pleads No Contest to Sexual Assault Charges
By Cole Waterman
September 5, 2018
|The Rev. Robert J. " Father Bob" Deland, Jr. looks to attorney Alan Crawford during a preliminary examination for Deland before Saginaw County District Judge David D. Hoffman on April 25, 2018. Deland is charged with attempted second degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of gross indecency between males. (Jacob Hamilton)|
SAGINAW, MI -- In an eleventh-hour hearing, Roman Catholic priest the Rev. Robert J. "Father Bob" DeLand Jr. pleaded no contest to multiple charges that see him convicted of sexually assaulting several young males.
DeLand, 71, in the late afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 4, appeared before Saginaw County Circuit Judge Darnell Jackson and pleaded no contest to all seven charges he faced -- two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving injury and single counts of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct, assault with intent to commit second-degree criminal sexual conduct, gross indecency between males, selling alcohol to a minor and distributing an imitation controlled substance.
The charges are divided among five files and involve three victims. The most serious crime is second-degree criminal sexual conduct, being a 15-year felony. The charge does not involve penetration and is limited to touching.
DeLand's trial on some of the charges was to begin with jury selection Wednesday morning.
By pleading no contest, DeLand did not verbally admit to having committed any crimes. Rather, Judge Jackson had to rely on police reports and court records to enter convictions on the record.
Jackson indicated he would sentence DeLand to one year in jail without the possibility of release on tether. This was based on sentencing guidelines that placed DeLand's minimum sentence in a range of 12 to 24 months. Deland also will receive a five-year probation term and will be required to register as a sex offender.
"We are satisfied that Mr. DeLand has been held accountable for all of his misconduct in all of the cases that we filed," said Saginaw County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Mark Gaertner.
Police first arrested DeLand on Feb. 25 at his home at 29 Mallard Cove in Saginaw Township. The following day, DeLand was arraigned on charges related to the molestation of a 17- and a 21-year-old male. The arrest stemmed from a months-long investigation by Saginaw Township and Tittabawassee Township police.
Police on March 22 executed search warrants and raided several Saginaw Catholic Diocese properties, including the Saginaw Township home of Bishop Joseph R. Cistone. Investigators arrested DeLand again on April 5 and the following day he was arraigned on charges related to allegations that he'd assaulted an 18-year-old male.
DeLand's victims testified in preliminary examinations held April 25 and 27. The 17-year-old said he had known DeLand as a hall monitor at his high school and that DeLand supervised his community service, to which he was sentenced after being convicted of minor in possession of alcohol.
The teen grew concerned when DeLand began constantly calling him on the phone. He would also step on his feet and grab his hands in the school hallways, make him promise to hang out with him and would offer to buy him things. The teen told this to his parents and then they contacted police in November.
The teen told police he felt DeLand was harassing him, he said. Despite not wanting to do so, he agreed to investigators' request to record his conversations with DeLand.
On Nov. 16, DeLand had taken him out of class, given him $20, hugged him, and touched his buttocks, the teen testified.
The teen said this made him feel "very uncomfortable and very angry. I wanted to punch him in the face."
DeLand also gave the teen multiple cigarette packs and eventually asked him to acquire ecstasy for him. The teen testified DeLand gave him $100 for the illicit drug.
The teen on Feb. 25 stayed at DeLand's condo and pretended to take an ecstasy pill, then faked the drug's effects, he said. At the time, he was equipped with a recording device and was being monitored by nearby police.
The priest massaged the teen's feet, chest, and back and put his hand on the teen's buttocks for a minute or two, the teen said.
The 18-year-old victim testified he and his father in May 2017 attended a community event conducted by DeLand at St. Agnes Catholic Church, 300 Johnson St. in Freeland.
At DeLand's request, the teen accompanied him into a coat room in the church. DeLand then reached toward the teen's genital area, but the teen managed to block him.
The oldest victim, now 22, testified DeLand had sexually assaulted him on Aug. 7 inside DeLand's condo. He said the two were drinking tequila before he blacked out and regained consciousness several times, once to DeLand kissing him and another to both of them standing with their pants around their ankles, with no memory of how they got that way.
During the preliminary examination, prosecutors played video footage of the 22-year-old calling DeLand from within a police station interview room and putting the priest on speaker phone.
In the footage, the man tells DeLand he needs "to talk about what happened that night. I'm not OK inside. I know you took advantage of me. I know you got me drunk on purpose. What did you do to me that night, Bob?"
"Well, OK," DeLand responds. "Here's what I... I don't know what happened. I know we were drinking that tequila and I can remember sitting out on the deck because I was getting a big charge out of you telling me to be quiet and you moved your hand and it was really funny. I don't remember going to bed. I don't remember you leaving. I don't remember what happened. I don't know what I did."
The man begins sobbing and his voice rises.
"You don't deserve to be a priest at all," he says.
"All I can tell you is I wish... I don't know what happened," DeLand replies. "You don't have to believe that and I can't force you to believe that."
The man says he remembers DeLand not having his pants on and calls him a liar.
"You can call me a liar, but I don't remember a thing," DeLand says. "I know you're having a rough time. I'm having a worse time. I'll tell you this much, I believe you when you say if I took advantage of you... I don't remember it, but I believe you. I know another thing -- I 'd never hurt you. I'm just so stupid. I guess, I guess... I don't know. I know I blacked out. I'm glad for this phone call; I've felt so terrible.
"I would never hurt you," DeLand continues. "I believe you because you're such a good person. I just feel awful. I mean, I really feel awful and I know there's nothing I can do to make it up. I just know I would not knowingly do this. I hope that I didn't take advantage of you."
"I don't care how you feel," the man says. "You literally broke me inside."
Separate from the criminal matters, DeLand is named in a civil lawsuit filed by attorney Todd J. Weglarz of Southfield firm Fieger, Fieger, Kenney & Harington on behalf of DeLand's youngest victim and an adult representative. Also named in the suit are the Saginaw Diocese and Bishop Cistone.
The suit alleges DeLand, 71, had groomed and molested a teenage boy. Cistone and the Diocese are named as defendants in the suit due to allegations that they knew of DeLand's alleged misconduct with minors but turned a blind eye to it.
DeLand is to remain free on bond pending sentencing, the date of which is pending.