Mexico Sends Back U.S. Priest Accused of Child Molestation

By Karen Kucher and Sandra Dibble
San Diego Union-Tribune
March 5, 2003

A suspended Catholic priest who fled to Mexico after child molestation charges were filed against him in California has been tracked down and sent back to the United States.

The Rev. Austin Peter Keegan, a former Oceanside resident, was indicted last year in San Francisco. He was being sought on an arrest warrant alleging 25 counts of child sex crimes and on a federal warrant accusing him of unlawfully fleeing to avoid prosecution.

Keegan was arrested Saturday in Mexico and was expelled from the country by immigration authorities. They put him on a flight to Los Angeles, where U.S. law enforcement agents took him into custody.

Keegan had been receiving monthly Social Security payments, and investigators may have used them to help pinpoint his whereabouts in Mexico, said Elliot Beckelman, an assistant district attorney in San Francisco.

Agents from Mexico's Federal Investigations Agency worked closely with the FBI to find Keegan, according to a statement issued by the Mexican Federal Attorney General's Office.

They learned that Keegan withdrew money on the first of each month from ATM machines in the Pacific Coast resort city of Puerto Vallarta. They set up surveillance Saturday at all the major ATMs in the city and caught him as he withdrew funds at a pharmacy.

Keegan served as a priest in San Francisco and Santa Rosa and had lived in Oceanside. His age is unclear: the FBI said he's 73, while San Francisco prosecutors' records indicate he turned 67 in January.

Keegan had been accused of molesting children while working as a priest in Northern California. The charges stem from alleged assaults that occurred in the 1960s involving two victims, Beckelman said.

Keegan was one of several priests named in a lawsuit filed in 1994 by men who said that as children they were molested by priests. The Archdiocese of San Francisco paid $450,000 the next year to a man who said Keegan had abused him, according to press reports.

Beckelman said Keegan's alleged victims were pleased to hear of his capture.

"For people who have been hurt, particularly as children, they still have kinds of ghosts and demons about it, even as adults," Beckelman said. "It brings a sense of closure that this bogey man is no longer out there to hurt them and to hurt other children."

Authorities said Keegan had been living in Oceanside before he was indicted. Property records show he bought a condominium in Oceanside in 1998 and sold it in February 2002.

According to the local diocese, he did not do any Catholic ministry work while in San Diego County.


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