Judge Upholds Priest's Sex Charges

By Jim O'Neill
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
July 17, 1998

Details surrounding the alleged sexual assault of an altar boy in Perth Amboy 10 years ago emerged yesterday in a judge's decision to sustain an indictment against a former Roman Catholic priest.

The court papers claim The Rev. Michael Santillo, who has since left the priesthood to care for his sickly parents, gave the youth money for sexual favors and showed pornographic movies to the youth and his cousin.

He allegedly performed oral sex on them in his home at the rectory at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in 1988.

Court papers also allege Santillo, 49, of Schenectady, N.Y., enticed the youths and two of their friends to engage in a sex game in his home for a $100 prize.

At some point, authorities say Santillo warned the youths not to tell of the assaults, advising them that they were the ones who would be in trouble because they were blackmailing him, the court papers charge.

Although they have since recovered from drug habits, the former altar boy and his cousin have said the abuses caused their problems.

Santillo has declined to comment since he was arrested and charged in August. The case shocked his Perth Amboy parishioners, who rallied to his defense.

His attorney, Thomas P. Fischer of Washington Township, said the account was fabricated. "It never happened."

The lawyer also said, "We're anxious to go to trial and get Michael vindicated." No trial date has been set.

The details were in a court decision written in New Brunswick by Superior Court Judge Barnett E. Hoffman, who cited the grand jury testimony of the alleged victims and the alleged victim's mother.

In the decision, the judge declined to dismiss an indictment accusing Santillo of seven counts of sexual assault and child endangerment.

Santillo was accused of assaulting the altar boy, 14 at the time, but the grand jury did not hand up charges in connection with the alleged assaults of the other youths.

Assistant Prosecutor Anthony Scarpelli said the statute of limitations had lapsed in those cases.

Under state law, alleged victims may file charges up to five years after they become 18, according to the court decision.

In a hearing last week, Santillo's lawyer sought to dismiss the indictment base on the statute of limitations.

The judge ruled that the charges leveled by the altar boy, who is now 24 and married, were filed within the proper time frame.

Other reasons for dismissal, including claims that testimony was improperly offered to the grand jury, also were rejected by the judge.

Hoffman further disagreed with a contention that a second indictment, handed up nine months after the original indictment was filed, had been done in retaliation for an earlier defense request to dismiss the case.

Hoffman ruled there was no retaliation, asserting that the prosecution filed the indictment a second time after learning the alleged victim mistakenly claimed the incidents occurred in 1987. Police later determined the alleged assaults occurred in 1988.

The judge reduced one of the child endangerment charges from a third-degree offense, which carries a penalty upon conviction of up to five years, to a fourth-degree offense, which provides for an 18- month jail term.

Hoffman determined the lesser offense applied since Santillo was not a guardian of the altar boy.


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