Feds Issue Warrant for Fugitive Cleric

Tyler Morning Telegraph
May 14, 2002

Five years after authorities say a Catholic priest fled Tyler allegedly to avoid prosecution on a child molestation charge, federal agents are pursuing him for leaving the state and nation to avoid capture.

Tyler FBI agents Monday obtained a warrant from U.S. Magistrate Judith Guthrie charging Gustavo DeJesus Cuello with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, beginning an official worldwide search for the elusive priest.

Prosecutors said they had evidence in 1997 indicating Cuello, now 39, fled the country after members of his church bonded him out of Smith County Jail. He was charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child when a 14-year-old girl from his parish reported Cuello had sex with her on numerous occasions before church activities.

Cuello remains on the run and FBI agents only learned of the case late last week when the Tyler Morning Telegraph asked about it and a prosecutor checked with federal agents to determine the status of the search.

The district attorney's office and the FBI realized a federal warrant to embark on a multi-jurisdictional search for Cuello had not been issued.

Based on information provided by the DA's office Monday, FBI Agent Bart Larocca filed an affidavit to secure the warrant.

Cuello, a Colombian national, was ordained in Gauyaquil, Ecuador, and had purchased a plane ticket to return there after he bonded out of county jail in April 1997.

His $50,000 bond was increased the following month, but efforts to locate Cuello were futile and the case remained dormant until this week when Judge Guthrie issued the federal warrant.

Cuello, a missionary who had only been in Tyler a short time, was pastor in 1996 and 1997 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, a Hispanic affiliate of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tyler.

The teen-age girl, now a 20-year-old college student, reported to police in April 1997 the priest had been having sex with her before Wednesday choir practices and Sunday Mass and various occasions in his vehicle. The girl told police the abuse began in June 1996, when she was 13 after Cuello befriended her and her family.

The victim's family in 1998 filed a civil suit against the diocese, alleging the church knew of the abuse and engaged in a coverup. The suit went away quietly with an out of court settlement.

Until the federal warrant issued this week, the Cuello case went virtually unnoticed among the nationwide pedophile priest scandals.


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