Cinel's Acquittal Closes Book on Case

By James Varney
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA]
August 26, 1995

Former New Orleans priest Dino Cinel's acquittal on child pornography charges Thursday night was but one ending to his long legal saga: The statute of limitations also has run out on possible federal action against him.

"This is the end of the book - not just a chapter," defense attorney Arthur "Buddy" Lemann said. "What happened is this jury vindicated what would have been the proper ending to the book a long time ago."

Lemann said federal attorneys decided some time ago not to prosecute Cinel on charges he engaged in interstate trafficking in child pornography.

While U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan declined to comment on the federal investigation, he confirmed that the five-year statute of limitations for that crime has expired.

That clock began ticking in 1988, when a colleague of Cinel's found a cache of gay pornography in Cinel's rectory office at St. Rita's Church and turned it over to New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick.

On the heels of that discovery, Cinel resigned from the priesthood and publicly apologized for sexual deviancy. Cinel said he would cruise the French Quarter looking for young men, then take them to the St. Rita's rectory for sexual encounters he would videotape. But he insisted the sex was consensual, and did not involve minors.

The tapes and commercial pornography found in Cinel's office triggered a complicated internal battle within Connick's office. At the time, some of Connick's investigators said privately that they had urged him to prosecute Cinel on charges more serious than child pornography.

But Connick refused all charges, and there the matter rested until 1991, when his inaction was exposed by TV reporter Richard Angelico.

Connick acknowledged that one of the reasons he did not press the case was his wish to spare the Catholic Church embarrassment. Connick is a parishioner at St. Rita's. But he said this week that he is irked by public perception that his church ties were the sole factor behind his decision. He released a chronology of events and an internal memorandum from his former chief investigator, George Tolar, that he said explains his decision.

Of primary importance, Connick said, was the interest federal authorities displayed in Cinel. On May 9, 1989, former U.S. Attorney John Volz wrote to Connick, saying his office had received a complaint about Cinel's activity from the U.S. Postal Service. Volz asked Connick to make the pornography available, "as evidence in support of potential federal prosecution."

On Feb. 22, 1990, Tolar wrote an internal memorandum regarding the investigation and two young men identified in tapes as having had sex with Cinel. The memo said one of the young men told investigators he was not a minor when the relations took place. The other man was described as "absolutely hostile and uncooperative."

"As a result of our investigation we determined that no violation of law occurred," Tolar wrote.

But Tolar said Friday that the memo cited by Connick pertained only to the issue of whether Cinel should be charged in connection with video tapes he made of his sex acts with young men. He said the memo did not deal with whether Cinel should be charged with illegal possession of child pornography, a case Tolar said he urged Connick to pursue.

"That was clear to Connick over several meetings," Tolar said.

The news that Connick failed to act on the pornography stash provoked what Lemann called "a lynch mob." Connick's reversal of his original position was the biggest mistake in the case, Lemann said.

"You don't prosecute someone for something they have in their bedroom," he said.

Assistant District Attorney Tim McElroy agreed that jurors were swayed by Lemann's argument that Cinel's activity was private, and that it involved consenting adults rather than minors. McElroy said the case should have hinged on the merchandising of child pornography rather than on Cinel's personal sexual history.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.