Sunday, December 04, 2005

 

Comment here


Okay, I'm furiously catching up this weekend. I appreciate all the mail I've gotten lately, and we'll get them up soon!

Continuous comment thread here.

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Former pastor admits to breaking into old church


TUSCOLA, Mich. - State police say a former pastor who wants to get back into the ministry must atone for his sin before preaching again.

Detectives say the suspect admitted to breaking into his old church in Tuscola County this week.

A church caretaker scared him off. Troopers used a license number obtained by the caretaker, to track him down.

Detectives have requested warrants from county prosecutors. The man is being held in the county jail.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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Kennebunk pastor will step aside amid probe


KENNEBUNK, Maine — The pastor of St. Martha's Roman Catholic Church is stepping aside while the Diocese of Portland investigates an allegation that he improperly touched a 9-year-old girl six years ago. Bishop Richard Malone made the announcement regarding the Rev. Laurent Laplante to parishioners at Saturday afternoon Mass at the church off Route 1.

Malone said the 74-year-old priest has denied any wrongdoing, according to a statement released by the diocese. However, Laplante has agreed to "step aside temporarily" and cooperate with the diocese as it looks into the matter, Malone said.

He said the Rev. Maurice Lebel, a retired priest in the diocese, will fill in for Laplante, who has been with the parish for 10 years.

Laplante allegedly touched the girl in 1999, but she only recently reported it, according to the diocese's statement. The allegation was that "Fr. Laplante touched her pants on the knee and inner thigh," Malone said.

The diocese said it immediately reported the allegation to public authorities. Malone has also spoken to the family of the girl, now a high school student, and the diocese has offered her support and counseling, the diocese said.

However, Malone stressed to parishioners Saturday that the girl's claim is still only that.

"Let me be very clear, this is an allegation," the bishop's statement said. "The diocese is just beginning its investigation in the hope that greater clarity can be obtained as to what indeed happened."

Malone said Laplante's removal from public ministry is consistent with diocesan policy and is to "preserve the integrity of the process, to give potential witnesses the greatest freedom and to further the church's commitment to protect children."

Malone urged anyone with information on the case, or who has been abused by a priest or some other representative of the church, to contact the diocese.

However, Paul Kendrick, a co-founder of the Maine chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a church reform group which advocates for victims of clergy abuse, said that group advises victims of abuse to contact police first.

Kendrick, who in the past has criticized the way the diocese has responded to abuse allegations, said Saturday that in this case, "it seems (the diocese) has reacted properly to an allegation in having removed the priest."

Laplante, who is originally from Lewiston, was ordained in 1957. According to the diocese, he first served at St. Ignatius Church in Northeast Harbor in 1957 and later that year served at St. Charles Church in Brunswick. From 1959 to 1967 he served at St. Theresa Parish, Mexico. He then worked for the diocese as associate director of religious education from 1967 to 1972.

Laplante then served at St. Matthew Parish in Hampden until 1978, when he became pastor at St. Margaret Parish in Old Orchard Beach. In 1983, he was named pastor of St. Matthew, Limerick, and in 1989 he became pastor of St. Andre Parish, Biddeford, until he was assigned to Kennebunk in 1995.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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"Preacher" Bilked Investors Out of Millions


A Chicago-area man who used his religious ties with pastors and fellow church members to lure them into a web that snared 144 victims in nine states with promises of big investment returns has pleaded guilty to numerous felonies and has been sentenced to serve 7.5 years in prison.

James E. Upshaw of Oak Brook has pleaded guilty to the charges against him. Although some of the charges are consolidated in the plea, Upshaw originally was indicted on four counts of theft of over $100,000, a Class One Felony; six counts of theft of over $10,000, a Class Two Felony; and 16 counts of securities fraud, a Class Three Felony, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.

Upshaw's victims included a destitute woman who took her last dollars and won $812,000 at a casino only to be taken in by the con artist, a woman represented by famed lawyer Johnnie Cochran who won a medical malpractice settlement and a pastor who invested church funds. Several of Upshaw's victims were older than 60.

Holding himself out as a preacher, praying during his presentations and implying that his investment decisions were communicated to him by God, Upshaw duped his victims into "investing" $6.5 million with him between 2001 and 2004.

Upshaw paid out approximately $4.5 of the $6.5 million to investors as purported returns on their investments, and in some instances, as a return of principal. He used the remaining $2 million to run his business, pay himself and his wife, make a down payment on a $1 million house in Oak Brook and pay other debts.

It appears from thousands of records that only about $80,000 of the $6.5 million actually was invested.

All the investors' funds were deposited in Illinois banks. Upshaw managed to pay money to early investors by using money that came in from new investors, a classic pyramid scheme. However, his failure to invest the money and his lavish lifestyle eventually caught up with him and his checks to investors started bouncing.

Known as an "affinity fraud," in which a criminal or con artist convinces people to trust him because they share a common religious or ethnic background, Upshaw not only hit Chicago-area churches but made numerous presentations across the country to preach his special brand of investment gospel.

"James Upshaw used his charisma, charm and seeming trustworthiness to bilk nearly 150 people to hand over their hard-earned money and savings," Madigan said. "This crime is especially heinous because people truly believed he was looking out for their best interests. In fact, the only interest he was looking out for was his own."

Madigan said Upshaw operated a company called Upshaw and Associates, LLC, located in Westchester. The business provided tax return preparation and consultation services, and after 2001, investment advice.

Upshaw would pitch one of several purported investment vehicles to unwitting victims, including investments in commodities, commercial paper and silver and gold. He sold a monthly program, a quarterly program and a two-year program as well as a money market plan.

The amount of interest earned from a particular program was different for different investors depending on how much they invested, how they wanted the interest paid and how strapped Upshaw was for money.

Madigan's office separated the charges into two different indictments because one of the cases involved Upshaw promising to represent a victim in a tax matter she was involved in with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which was different from his other crimes.

In that case, Upshaw not only failed to provide the woman with the promised representation, but he also stole the money she gave him to pay the IRS, Madigan said.

While Madigan's office is seeking restitution for investors, at this time, there are no known assets with which to repay victims roughly $3 million they are owed.

In a civil case last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) seized Upshaw's home and other assets.

"A man who once had millions of other people's money now has about $700 in a bank account," Madigan said. "This is a heartbreaking, cautionary tale for potential investors to very carefully check out whom they trust their money with, no matter how that person presents himself."


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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GI gets 54-year sentence for child molestation


WIESBADEN, Germany — A soldier assigned to the 1st Cavalry Regiment was sentenced to 54 years in prison for molesting a child under 16 at a general court-martial that ended Friday.

Spc. Jesse L. Brandon Jr., a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, also was stripped of all pay and benefits, reduced in rank to E-1 and given a dishonorable discharge, according to a news release by the 1st Armored Division public affairs office.

Brandon, 23, pleaded guilty to the charge, according to the news release.

Judge (Col.) Denise Lind presided in the case, which was heard by a panel of four officers and five enlisted soldiers. The sentence was the maximum allowable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Maj. Gen. Fred D. Robinson, 1st AD commander and convening authority for the case, will now review the decision.


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Saturday, December 03, 2005

 

Racial profiling feared at Wal-Mart


Via The General:

TAMPA, Fla. - GAF Materials Corp. is handing out gift cards from Target as a reward to select employees this holiday season. That's because Wal-Mart, the discount store that held the business for years, last week called sheriff's deputies to apprehend a GAF manager on a bogus bad check rap while he was trying to buy this year's gift card supply.

"I keep going over and over the incident in my mind," said Reginald Pitts, the 34-year-old human resources manager for the roof material manufacturer's Tampa distribution center. "I cannot come up with any possible reason why I was treated like this except that I am black."

Wal-Mart has launched its own internal investigation of the incident, which store officials concede upfront "was handled very poorly."

"We've apologized to Mr. Pitts and are trying to find out exactly what happened so it does not happen again," said Sharon Weber, spokeswoman for the chain, based in Bentonville, Ark. "We do not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling at Wal-Mart."

GAF has been spending about $50,000 a year on gift cards at the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 11110 Causeway Blvd. in Brandon. For years GAF sent a white, female administrator to buy them without incident. This time, when she was on vacation the day before Thanksgiving, Pitts did the job himself. He phoned in the order for 520 cards, got the accounting department to issue Wal-Mart a $13,600 check and then encountered a royal hassle trying to exchange it for gift cards at the store.

"For a while there I thought I was going to prison," he said. "It was a totally humiliating experience."

For about two hours, store managers stalled on accepting the check for the already-printed gift cards, while Pitts stood waiting by the customer service desk. He had handed over his GAF business card, his driver's license and the toll-free numbers to GAF's bank. His accounting supervisor assured them over the phone that GAF, the nation's biggest roofing systems maker with revenues of $1.6-billion in 2004, was good for the check.

Two African-American Wal-Mart clerks watching all this from nearby told Pitts that several similarly sized transactions were made for other companies that day without delay, Pitts said. They suggested to Pitts that he was subjected to all the extra scrutiny by their bosses because he is black.

The thought made him physically ill.

Dressed in khaki pants and a blue button-down-collar dress shirt, Pitts finally got upset over the lengthy wait. He asked for the check back so he could go to another store. But store managers, who had kept huddled in a nearby office during most of his two-hour ordeal, refused to return it. The only explanation he got was that the store was having trouble "verifying" the check or who Pitts was.

Later, two Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies appeared. One grabbed Pitts by the arm. He objected to the rough handling and asked if he was being arrested.

"We need to talk with you about this forged check that you brought in here," Pitts recalled deputy Bryan Wells saying. Later Wells explained the reason for the firm arm grab: "Well, Wal-Mart called us and reported to us that you committed a felony, and that's the way we approach felons," Pitts recalled.

Within 19 minutes deputies reviewed the evidence, determined there was no grounds for a criminal charge and learned Wal-Mart would not press the issue further. Wells handed the check to Pitts.

"Our deputies didn't even see enough (of a case) to write a report," said Lt. Carmen Rivas, the shift commander. "We responded only because Wal-Mart called in a bad check report."

To road deputies, the dispatch code means a possible felony.

Wal-Mart store manager Mark Cornett, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, told Pitts that he only "did what he had to do" before saying "have a great day, sir," according to Pitts.

Pitts was so shaken that he called his boss, Dennis Branch, a regional vice president for GAF in Savannah, Ga. Branch called Cornett and confirmed Pitts' version of the story.

"I was appalled," Branch said. "He wouldn't answer questions like, "Do you call the sheriff every time you cannot verify a check?' He got very defiant. He would not apologize and eventually hung up on me. Reggie had given them the names of several GAF VPs who could vouch for him. All they did was call the GAF guard house number they found in the phone book," which was not answered.

Wal-Mart said it has opened its own investigation of the matter after Pitts called Wal-Mart's complaint line and GAF, based in Wayne, N.J., and a closely-held unit of G-I Holdings Inc., lodged a complaint. GAF, which has 26 plants around the country, employs about 125 people in Tampa.

"We are very concerned about the way Mr. Pitts was treated by Wal-Mart," said Patricia Kim, GAF vice president of employment and labor. "We are awaiting Wal-Mart's response."

Wal-Mart's critics were not surprised. Wal-Mart, like many large retail chains, has been confronted by employment and promotion discrimination suits. In Boston, one suit claims Wal-Mart engaged in a form of racial profiling to prevent shoplifting.

"There has been a string of news reports and lawsuits around the country alleging discrimination and racial profiling in Wal-Mart stores over the past several years," said Paul Blank, director of WakeUpWalMart.com, a group backed by the United Commercial and Food Workers union that launched a campaign against the nonunion retailer in April. "Only time will tell if it's by policy or by practice."

So far, four Wal-Mart officials, including a regional vice president of operations at corporate headquarters in Bentonville, have called Pitts and apologized for the incident. But no one from the store did. And nobody from the company has offered an explanation of what happened.

"They have it all on tape someplace. I have been trying to find some reasonable explanation why they did this to me other than something racial," Pitts said. "So far they have not provided one."


See also our collection of cultural-defining Wal-Mart moments.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

 

Pastor of Euless church faces sex charge



Thanks to Cowtown for this:

EULESS, Texas - A pastor who was also a police volunteer was arrested Thursday after authorities say he molested a 21-year-old "immature" man and later was recorded offering to perform more sex acts on him.

The Rev. James Leonard Finley, 68, was stopped by Euless patrol officers just a few blocks from the man's apartment in north Euless, police said.

Finley, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Euless, was released from the Euless City Jail on Thursday evening after posting $1,000 bail. He is accused of public lewdness by molesting the man Thursday.

"He had befriended the kid," Euless Detective Kimberly Althouse said. "He had even helped his family pay some bills."

Police said the encounter occurred in the Euless apartment the man shares with his mother. In addition to Finley's pastoral duties, he has also been active in the city's citizens patrol and is on a list of pastors called to help to console people involved in tragic events, police said.

Upon hearing of Finley's arrest, Associate Pastor Beverly Springer said she couldn't answer questions about the church or the pastor, except to say that First United Methodist Church of Euless has 1,385 names on its membership roster.

"I have to go to the jail and find out what's going on," Springer said.

Finley will not be in the pulpit Sunday to oversee a scheduled youth musical, said Connally Dugger, district superintendent for the Mid Cities District of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. Springer will be in charge until Finley meets with Bishop Ben Chamness next week to discuss the situation, Dugger said.

"The bishop's out of town," Dugger said. "I've informed him of what I know, and he said we'll figure things out when he gets back."

Finley has ministered at First United Methodist Church of Euless for the past four years and has spent most of his career ministering across Texas, Dugger said.

"I'm surprised," he said. "I spoke with him this evening, and he told me about being arrested and about the charge. But that's it. The details are troubling."

A woman at Finley's home declined to comment.

Authorities said they were investigating the possibility of other victims.

"The investigation is not over," Althouse said.

During questioning, police said, Finley denied wrongdoing, but he asked for a lawyer when police played the telephone recording.

Police said the man and Finley met in July at a Euless store where the man worked, police said. Generally, the Star-Telegram does not identify people who report being victims of a sexual assault.

Althouse described the man as "immature" and who trusted the pastor.

"He had talked to the pastor about a Web site he had created," Althouse said. "The pastor visited with the man every time he went to the store. At one point, the pastor asked for the man's telephone number."

The man thought that was odd, but he believed that it was fine because it was a pastor, Althouse said.

"The pastor later told him that he loved him," Althouse said. "Again, the man didn't think much of it because it was coming from a pastor."

Their relationship reached another level on Thursday morning, police said.

His mother was not home, the man told police, when the pastor came to his Euless apartment, bringing him breakfast. At some point, the pastor began talking about having sexual experiences, he said.

Finley is accused of fondling the man, who pleaded for him to stop, police said.

The pastor left the man crying in the apartment after the brief encounter, police said.

The young man called police and was taken to the station to discuss what happened. "He was quite upset," Althouse said.

While at the police station, officials asked the man to telephone the pastor and ask him about what he had done, authorities said. In a brief recorded conversation, the pastor offered to perform more sex acts on the Euless man because he wanted to be the first, police said.

After aiding police, the man was driven back to his Euless apartment, Althouse said.

Within minutes, the man called police to report that the pastor was at his apartment, trying again to get inside his home, Althouse said.

Finley was gone when officers arrived, but he was stopped a few blocks away, Althouse said.

Finley could be is expected to be charged with public lewdness, in the next few days, a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, he faces a maximum of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Finley has been ministering for 43 years, according to a newsletter posted on the church's Web site. He is the senior pastor, with Springer assisting.

First United Methodist Church of Euless is located at 106 N. Main St.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

 

Former priest faces sex charges


Fort Collins, Colorado - The sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church has surfaced in Fort Collins, with a former priest facing charges of sexually assaulting children.

Former Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish priest Timothy Joseph Evans, 43, was advised Wednesday afternoon in Larimer County Court that he is charged with two counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and one count of contributing to the delinquency of minor, all felonies, according to court documents.

The Fort Collins police department and the Larimer County District Attorney's Office, citing a gag order placed on the case Wednesday by County Court Judge Peter Schoon, have declined to confirm that Evans is a former priest or discuss where he was arrested or the amount of his bond. A call to the Larimer County Detention Center revealed that Evans was not booked into the jail. District Court Judge Jolene Blair ordered the file sealed on Nov. 22, the day an arrest warrant for Evans was requested by police.

However, a public records search by the Fort Collins Coloradoan showed Evans lived in a residence owned by the church and that an investigation into the allegations began in 2004. Records also indicate that the alleged crimes would have been committed while Evans was serving at the church. However, it is not known if those allegations involve children from the church.

Evans served at the parish for at least four years, leaving in 2002, according to a Coloradoan archive search. Evans was ordained in 1993 and removed from parish ministry in 2002, according to a statement from Francis Maier, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Denver.

In 2003, the archdiocese removed Evans’ “priestly faculties,” which removed him from active ministry, according to Jeanette DeMalo, director of communications for the Archdiocese.

Maier’s statement said the diocese is “deeply concerned” about the charges and urged full cooperation by anyone who might have information about the case.

Deacon Jim Devlin, of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, said he hadn’t spoken to Evans since Evans left the church in 2002 but was shocked when he learned of the charges.

“It’s extremely out of character for the Father Tim, I know,” he said.
The Rev. Larry Christensen, the current pastor at the church, said he had no comment about the charges.

Evans, who remains free on bond, is scheduled to make his first appearance in District Court at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 20.

In August, Fort Collins resident Greg Roberts, 52, filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Denver for sexual abuse he said he had suffered at the hands of a priest 40 years ago. Roberts alleges he was sexually abused by Harold Robert White from 1965 to 1967 while White was a priest at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Sterling.

At least 16 people have come forward with allegations that White, who was ordained in 1960, molested them during his service in parishes across Colorado, including in Loveland and Sterling. White was removed from the priesthood in 2004, although details have not been made available.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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Pastor arrested in second rape case


Syracuse, New York - A Syracuse pastor is back in jail after being charged with rape for the second time.

Jaree Jones, 30, of 148 Camp Ave., is accused of raping a teenage girl in Connecticut in 2000. He is to be arraigned today in Syracuse City Court.

Jones, pastor of the Refuge Temple of Syracuse, on South Avenue, was charged Wednesday with two felonies - sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor - based on a warrant out of Waterbury, Conn.

He had been charged Nov. 9 with second-degree rape and second-degree criminal sexual act after a 15-year-old Syracuse girl told police he raped her. The girl said Jones assaulted her several times between May 2004 and March 2005 at his home and church, where the girl's family attends services.

Syracuse police Sgt. Tom Connellan said a second victim came forward this week after seeing reports of Jones' arrest on the Internet. Shortly after the alleged rape, in 2000, the girl reported it to police and a warrant was issued for Jones' arrest. She was younger than 16 at the time. She called police again this week after seeing stories about Jones' Syracuse arrest.

"The victim had done some type of Internet search on Jones' name, saw that he had been arrested and contacted Waterbury police," Connellan said.

Waterbury police contacted Syracuse police, who arrested Jones at his home.

Connellan said the Connecticut warrant against Jones had been pending for several years, but police there never entered it into a national computer system. That's why Syracuse police found no record of it when they first arrested Jones.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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Murrells Inlet minister charged with child molestation


Georgetown, Wisconsin - A former Murrells Inlet minister is out on bail after being charged with molesting a member of his youth group after a church field trip.

Thirty-six-year-old Troy Taylor was surrounded by his mother, pastor and other supporters during the brief hearing Wednesday.

The boy was 11 at the time of the alleged incident. He and his parents also attended the hearing.

Magistrate Elaine Elliott said she set bond because Taylor has not been convicted of previous charges.

Taylor must have no contact with the boy or his family, but he is not barred from having contact with children.

Taylor was charged Tuesday with second-degree criminal sexual misconduct with a minor.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

 

Bible study turns violent at Glenn County Jail


WILLOWS, California - It's been said that more people have gone to war over religion than any other cause, but officials at the Glenn County Jail don't believe a fight during a Bible study class Sunday was faith-based.
"It was probably something that started in the pod, then carried over to the Bible study," said sheriff's Lt. Rich Warren.

Five inmates were reportedly attending the study session, which was being led by a pastor in the jail library.

Witnesses said Mario Martinez and Levi Pope suddenly started fighting in a corner of the room, and refused to stop when approached by four correctional officers.

The fight was physically broken up and the two men were taken back to their cells.

Officer Christa Berlier suffered minor injuries during the altercation and was taken to Glenn Medical Center in Willows for treatment of a sprained hand and small fractures.

Neither inmate required medical care, but Pope later complained of pain to his elbow and neck.

A computer and printer inside the library were damaged during the scuffle.

Pope, who had been serving time on narcotics and probation violations, was due to be released Dec. 28. Martinez, serving a 60-day sentence for a vehicular code violation, would have completed his sentence Dec. 21.

Both now face charges of felony battery on a correctional officer and destruction of jail property. The case will be sent to the Glenn County District Attorney for further action.

Warren said the jail is very careful about allowing inmates who don't know each other to interact, and said both men had been housed in the same living unit.


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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

 

Weekly church-related crime update, November 14 - November 20




  • Paul LeBrun, a Catholic priest at two suburban Phoenix, Arizona, churches, St. John Vianney Church and the Blessed Sacrament Church, was found guilty of abusing boys ranging from age 11 to 16 from 1986 to 1991, reported the Associated Press:

    LeBrun stood trial on eight counts of sexual conduct with a minor and five counts of child molestation. Jurors returned the six guilty verdicts but couldn’t reach agreements on five others. One other count was dropped, and LeBrun was acquitted of one count. Prosecutors alleged during the trial that LeBrun took advantage of young boys in Arizona and Indiana whose parents were abusive or divorced or boys who were abandoned by their fathers.

    LeBrun faces 81 to 110 years in prison.

  • Dean Robins, pastor of the Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in St. Roase, La., was arrested for crime against nature after being accused of having sex with another man in the bathroom stall of a Saint Rose truck stop.

  • Gerald Fitroy Griffith, pastor of the Redemption Christian Fellowship in Woodlawn, Maryland, was charged with sexual abuse to a minor, perverted practice, sodomy, second-, third-, and fourth-degree sex offense and second-degree assault. "Police say they were contacted by five victims about alleged sexual abuse. Police say an investigation found that Griffith was sexually abusing the victims during counseling sessions in the church office," reported the Associated Press.

  • Keith Thomas, pastor of Vineyard (Ohio) Community Church, may be deported, reported WCPO News. Thomas, a British subject, had been convicted and served prison time on drug charges 35 years ago. The past conviction came to light when Thomas applied for a green card.


  • Aaron Joseph Cote, associate pastor at St. Pius V Church in Providence, Rhode Island, was suspended from his duties after Brandon Rains, a former altar boy, filed a lawsuit accusing Cote of sexually abusing him when he was 14 and 15 years old. (Cote and Rains are seen in the photo at left.)



  • St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, California, the only seminary operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and alma mater of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, Diocese of Orange Bishop Tod Brown and other prominent prelates, has produced a disproportionate number of alleged sexual abusers, reported the Los Angeles Times:

    About 10% of St. John's graduates reported to have been ordained in the Los Angeles Archdiocese since 1950 — 65 of roughly 625 — have been accused of molesting minors, according to a review of ordination announcements, lawsuits, published reports and the archdiocese's 2004 list of alleged abusers. In two classes — 1966 and 1972 — a third of the graduates were later accused of molestation.

  • Wendell Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, resigned as police investigated the alleged embezzlement of church money. The missing money was brought to the attention of police by members of the church's board of directors.

  • Dong Wan Park, pastor of Hope Korean Church in Tacoma, Washington, charged with filing fraudulent visa applications for two men he said were coming to the U.S. to work at his church, reported the Seattle Times.


  • Thomas Graham, who was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison in August on charges related to sodomizing a boy in the late 1970s in the rectory of St. Louis' Old Cathedral but who remains free on bail while he appleals, has been living in a retirement home next to a child-care facility, apparently in violation of state law, reported the Associated Press. After members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) made Graham's presence public, the St. Louis Archdiocese said it had moved Graham to a different facility, away from children.

  • Michael Edwin Wempe, the former chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, admitted through his lawyer that he had molested 13 boys in the 1970s and 1980s, reported the Los Angeles Times.

  • Edward J. Smith, the former the campus minister of Archmere Academy in Claymont, Delaware, was accused of sexually molesting a teenager at the school by the alleged victim, Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth J. Whitwell, a Naval healthcare administrator and optometrist at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va., reported Delaware State News.


  • See the entire never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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    Priest sentenced to eight months in jail on child porn conviction


    BARNSTABLE, Mass. --A Roman Catholic priest who pleaded guilty to storing hundreds of images of child pornography on his computer and coercing a 16-year-old boy into filming himself performing a sex act was sentenced Monday to eight months in jail.

    Prosecutors had recommended a three-year prison sentence for the Rev. Stephen A. Fernandes, 55, who was suspended as pastor of Our Lady Fatima Church in New Bedford.

    Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh criticized Superior Court Judge Robert Kane for handing Fernandes a lighter sentence. He will serve the eight-month sentence at a jail on Martha's Vineyard and is eligible for parole in three months.

    "The court may see this as a victimless crime, but I don't," Walsh said in a written statement. "When I look at the terrible pictures of more than 500 kids, I see 500 victims."

    Kane did not immediately return a telephone message left with his secretary.

    Fernandes, who was arrested last November, pleaded guilty on Sept. 26 to charges of possession and distribution of child pornography and posing a child in a state of nudity.

    Investigators found more than 500 images of child pornography, including 114 video files, on his computer after he sent the laptop to a computer servicing company in Fall River.

    Fernandes also allegedly used an instant messaging service to pretend he was a 19-year-old woman and trick a 16-year-old boy into filming himself performing a sex act.

    The Diocese of Fall River, in a statement released Monday, called the case "profoundly disturbing."

    "Parishioners expect -- and rightly so -- that their priests will live lives of certain virtue and it is disturbing when they fall short, and particularly jarring when their actions are criminal," the statement said.


    See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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    Charges shed light on church: Seattle `cult' is likely hiding members accused of sex abuse, police say


    More on the story below:

    Seattle - The shadowy history of an Eastside church, recognized by many as a cult, has come into focus with new charges of child molestation and an admission by one former member that he molested an 8-year-old boy.

    Steven A. Belzak told King County prosecutors that he began sexually abusing an 8-year-old boy at a home in Sammamish for male members of the Tridentine Latin Rite Church. In his confession, he said the abuse went on for three years, beginning in 2000.

    Another church member, 20-year-old Justin Kirkland, is charged with first-degree child rape and first-degree child molestation. And last week prosecutors charged a third man, Michael W. Muratore, 21, with first-degree child molestation.

    Kirkland and Muratore remain at large, and investigators believe the so-called cult that reared them is protecting them from prosecution.

    ``It's most likely that the cult is shielding or hiding them,'' said King County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart. ``This breakaway group is not recognized by the (Roman Catholic) church. They're a cult.''

    Belzak, now 20, pleaded guilty earlier this month to two counts of child molestation. He is scheduled for sentencing Monday in juvenile court. Prosecutors say they'll recommend a judge send Belzak to intensive sexual deviancy treatment before determining how much time he should serve.

    According to charging papers, the victim's mother went to Bellevue police in April 2004 after her son told her he had been molested while living at the Tridentine Latin Rite Church home in Sammamish.

    Since her son was 2, the woman told detectives, he had been raised by the men and other boys who lived at the house. She said the church was a cult, and she was allowed to visit her son only twice a year.

    She spent those years living with her daughters and other female members of the church at a home in Bellevue. It wasn't until she left the church last year that she learned of her son's abuse, prosecutors said.

    The Journal could not reach the now-13-year-old victim or his mother, but she told KING 5 News this week how she learned her son was abused.

    ``They were raping him and they were telling him that it was OK, that that's what everybody does,'' she said. ``It's very hard to admit that these people that I gave my son to, that I trusted, are the very ones that destroyed his innocence.''

    The woman's son told detectives and prosecutors that Muratore was the first to touch him when he was 7 or 8. Three weeks later, he said, Belzak touched him and made him take his clothes off while other boys were sleeping in the room.

    He said Kirkland later began molesting him, as well. The abuse went on until he was 11, he said.

    On one occasion, he was shut inside a closet with Belzak, when Belzak began touching him. A man who lived with the boys caught them and spanked them both.

    Urquhart said there are no allegations of organized or ritual abuse in the church, and the acts didn't occur under the direction of any of the group's leaders. Still, investigators are concerned that sexual abuse of children might be ongoing, and they suspect the church is covering it up.

    The church, also is known as ``Fatima Crusaders,'' has refused to cooperate with detectives, Urquhart said, and leaders of the cult have even denied the existence of Muratore.

    In fact, many of the children in the group have no birth certificate, Social Security number or any type of documentation. That's why it has taken more than a year to charge Muratore.

    ``We had a name but it took us a long time to figure out who he was,'' Urquhart said.

    In a report about the group published Nov. 25, 2002, in the Seattle Times, Muratore's father and aunt spoke about their decision to join the church.

    A truck driver and father of nine, Michael E. Muratore, 48, said he and his wife left a mainstream Christian church when it began to feel more like social club.

    ``After three or four months, you learned everything,'' Muratore said. ``It left us with an empty feeling. There had to be more to it.''

    The man said his faith in God ``gives total purpose to life. When you have a faith -- especially a purpose that says this is a means to an end, God provides opportunities.''

    The men of Tridentine Latin Rite Church have since abandoned the house in Sammamish, and police don't know where they're living now.

    Police say about 100 members of the Tridentine Latin Rite Church have lived in Renton, Bellevue and Issaquah for the last several years.

    The church has no published address or telephone number, and the Journal was unable to reach any representative of Tridentine Latin Rite Church for comment.

    The group should not be confused with other sects that broke away from the Catholic Church following global revisions in the way Catholics worship with The Second Vatican Council -- or Vatican II -- in 1965. The changes were intended to broaden the church's reach and appeal.

    Some groups formed new churches in opposition to Vatican II ruling to modernize the traditional Tridentine mass by replacing Latin with local vernacular and instructing priests to turn their backs on the holy altar during Mass.

    A lay church volunteer who helps organize a weekly traditional Latin mass at St. Joseph Chapel in downtown Seattle, Jason King of Mercer Island, said he and his organization, Una Voce of Western Washington, already have been mistaken for the cult. The difference, he said, is that he is a Roman Catholic and the Mass he organizes is fully recognized by the archdiocese of Western Washington.

    ``This cult is separate and distinct from the Catholic Church,'' King said. ``It's not recognized by the archdiocese. This cult doesn't even believe that Pope Benedict (XVI) is the pope. They don't believe there's been a pope since Vatican II in 1965.''

    At the heart of the mysterious group lies its founder, Francis Konrad Schuckardt, a charismatic leader who considers himself to be the true pope, according to members of the group.

    The group's history, as outlined in the book ``The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism'' by Michael Cuneo is marked by schism, controversy and police raids.

    A graduate of O'Dea High School, Schuckardt was one of the original defectors of the church, following Vatican II. The vocal traditionalist was ousted from his congregation and spent decades cultivating a following throughout the Northwest.

    Members of his church have described a harsh life with hours of prayer each day. Women and girls must cover their heads and wear long skirts. There have been reports of malnutrition and severe punishment such as shaving the heads of girls and forcing some to kneel during meals.

    Former members say the church uses fear to discourage its young followers from running away.

    In May 1987, a police SWAT team in California raided a house where the group was staying. They were searching for six children in two separate parental abduction cases. They didn't find the children, but they did find a cache of prescription pain killers, several guns, $75,000 in cash and records of numerous international bank accounts.

    The six children turned up elsewhere a few days later, after a new investigation into the cult had begun.

    Urquhart said investigators have found no sign of Schuckardt in more than two years. Most likely, he said, Schuckardt is dead, although his church insists he is alive.


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    Man in break-away Catholic cult wanted in child-rape case turns himself in


    Seattle - A man accused of taking part in a five-year pattern of child rape on the Sammamish Plateau turned himself in to authorities Monday and is being held in the King County Jail.

    Justin Kirkland, 20, was booked at the jail in downtown Seattle shortly before 3 a.m. and is being held in lieu of $75,000 bail, according to jail records.

    Kirkland was charged Dec. 23, 2004, in King County Superior Court with first-degree child rape in connection with incidents that allegedly took place between 1998 and 2003 at a home in the 21500 block of Southeast 39th Street that police said was being used as a "religious home," according to charging papers. Other accounts have described it as part of a breakaway sect of the Catholic Church.

    The charge was brought after an investigation that began when a woman told Bellevue police in April 2004 that her son had been sexually abused while at the home, court records indicate.

    The woman told police the home was the location of a religious cult where only males were allowed to live, the charging papers say. She said she was allowed to visit her son only twice a year.

    In May 2004, her son told police the sexual abuse began when he was between 7 and 9 years old, and he identified alleged assailants at the home, according to the charging papers. He said he had lived at the house five to six years.

    King County detectives questioned some suspects in July 2004. In further investigations this year, the woman who initiated the investigation took a detective to an address in the 13600 block of 197th Avenue Southeast in Renton, where she said she knew relatives of one of the alleged abusers lived "because they were in the church together," court documents say. The woman told police she had "escaped from the church" on Oct. 6, 2003, according to the papers.

    Department of Social and Health Services records indicated one of the children at the home indeed lived at the address on Southeast 39th Street, which was identified as the St. Francis Seminary. That and other information allowed the filing of amended charges this month identifying an additional suspect, records show.

    Besides Kirkland, one other defendant has been arrested in connection with the assaults, according to court records. The Issaquah man, now 19, was 17 when he was arrested in September 2004. He pleaded guilty to child rape in November 2004, but has been held for evaluation, with juvenile-court jurisdiction recently being extended to Dec. 31 of this year.

    No one was at the Sammamish home Monday. No trial date has been set for Kirkland.

    According to a Seattle Times story of November 2002, the sect members worshipped in a church using the name Tridentine Latin Rites. The members are among thousands of disaffected Catholics who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s after the Vatican adopted changes to broaden the church's impact and appeal, according to the reports.


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    Pastor Pleads Guilty To Sex Charges



    HEBRON, Ohio -- A Central Ohio minister accused of sexually abusing two teenage girls in his congregation changed his plea in court Monday.

    Lonny "Joe" Aleshire, 35, was the associate pastor at the Licking Baptist Church in Hebron.

    In February, Aleshire, who has a wife and four children, pleaded not guilty to six counts of unlawful sex with a minor and one count each of rape and sexual battery.

    Aleshire pleaded guilty to reduced charges and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

    Judge Jon Spahr also labeled Aleshire a sexually-oriented offender.


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    Ex-minister faces 4th sex-abuse count


    Myrtle Beach, S.C. - A former Murrells Inlet minister already facing accusations of molesting children in Georgetown County was arrested Thursday in Williamsburg County and charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

    Troy Taylor, 36, of Murrells Inlet, also faces a charge of second-degree criminal sexual misconduct with a minor and two counts of lewd act on a minor because of previous accusations.

    He was released from the Williamsburg County jail Thursday on a $50,000 cash surety bond, a jail official said.

    Taylor is being represented by lawyer Scott Joye, who has said Taylor is not guilty.

    It is the fourth time since 2003 Taylor has been charged with molestation-related counts.

    Taylor was charged last week because a man who was once part of a youth group at Low Country Community Church in Murrells Inlet said he was molested when he was 11.

    The latest charge stems from allegations by the same man.

    The man said Taylor, the former minister and youth leader at the church, molested him after a church field trip to Huntington Beach State Park in 1999.

    The man is now 19 years old.

    Taylor surrendered to the Georgetown County Sheriff's Office on Nov. 22 and was released from the Georgetown County jail on a $20,000 surety bond.

    Taylor was taken to the Williamsburg County jail to face another charge on Thursday, jail officials said.

    The man told police he was molested in Williamsburg County in 1998 when Taylor took the youth group on a camping trip to the Black River, near Andrews.

    The incident took place after other campers were sleeping, the police report said.

    It said Taylor put his hand over the boy's mouth and the boy was made to fondle Taylor, then have intercourse with him.

    Taylor then warned the boy not to say anything about what happened, the report said.

    In 2003, Taylor was charged with committing a lewd act on a minor for incidents that police reports said took place in 1988 and 1991. A trial date has not been set for those charges.


    See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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    Monday, November 28, 2005

     

    Traditional Values Coalition's Rev. Lou Sheldon Accepted Big Bucks to Support Gambling, Mislead Followers


    Ian sends us this:

    How a Lobbyist Stacked the Deck

    Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his team were beginning to panic.

    An anti-gambling bill had cleared the Senate and appeared on its way to passage by an overwhelming margin in the House of Representatives. If that happened, Abramoff's client, a company that wanted to sell state lottery tickets online, would be out of business.

    But on July 17, 2000, the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act went down to defeat, to the astonishment of supporters who included many anti-gambling groups and Christian conservatives.

    A senior aide to then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) helped scuttle the bill in the House. The aide, Tony C. Rudy, 39, e-mailed Abramoff internal congressional communications and advice, according to documents and the lobbyist's former associates.

    Rudy received favors from Abramoff. He went on two luxury trips with the lobbyist that summer, including one partly paid for by Abramoff's client, eLottery Inc. Abramoff also arranged for eLottery to pay $25,000 to a Jewish foundation that hired Rudy's wife as a consultant, according to documents and interviews. Months later, Rudy himself was hired as a lobbyist by Abramoff.

    The vote that day in July was just one part of an extraordinary yearlong effort by Abramoff on behalf of eLottery, a small gambling services company based in Connecticut. Details of that campaign, reconstructed from dozens of interviews as well as from e-mails and financial records obtained by The Washington Post, provide the most complete account yet of how one of Washington's most powerful lobbyists leveraged his client's money to influence Congress.

    The work Abramoff did for eLottery is one focus of a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation into his dealings with members of Congress and government agencies. Abramoff is under indictment in another case in connection with an allegedly fraudulent Florida business deal.

    Abramoff had deep roots in the conservative movement and rose to prominence by helping Republicans tap traditionally Democratic K Street lobbyists for campaign dollars. But in the eLottery fight, he employed a win-at-any-cost strategy that went so far as to launch direct-mail attacks on vulnerable House conservatives.

    Abramoff quietly arranged for eLottery to pay conservative, anti-gambling activists to help in the firm's $2 million pro-gambling campaign, including Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, and the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. Both kept in close contact with Abramoff about the arrangement, e-mails show. Abramoff also turned to prominent anti-tax conservative Grover Norquist, arranging to route some of eLottery's money for Reed through Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform.

    At one point, eLottery's backers even circulated a forged letter of support from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R).

    Rudy declined to comment for this report. A spokesman for Reed -- now a candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia -- said that he and his associates are unaware that any money they received came from gambling activities. Sheldon said that he could not remember receiving eLottery money and that he was unaware that Abramoff was involved in the campaign to defeat the bill. Norquist's group would say only that it had opposed the gambling ban on libertarian grounds.

    Abramoff's lawyer declined requests for a comment.

    DeLay, an outspoken opponent of gambling, was an instrument, witting or unwitting, in eLottery's campaign, documents and interviews show. Along with Rudy, he was a guest on a golfing trip to Scotland. As majority whip, he cast a rare vote against his party on the Internet gambling bill and for the rest of the year helped keep the measure off the floor. He told leadership colleagues that another vote could cost Republican seats in the hard-fought 2000 elections.

    A statement from DeLay's lawyer said his votes "are based on sound public policy and principle."

    The Scotland trip is one aspect of the gambling matter being investigated by the corruption task force. The trip took place more than five years ago, which ordinarily would be beyond the five-year statute of limitations on certain possible corruption charges. But legal sources say prosecutors have obtained a waiver of the time limit because of the need to gather information abroad.

    Desperate Company

    Like many Internet companies emerging from the overheated 1990s, eLottery's money was drying up in the spring of 2000.

    The company was founded in 1993 on the gamble that even a small fraction of the market for helping states and others put lotteries online could be worth a billion dollars a year. But the company faced many obstacles.

    In 1998, the Justice Department had used existing gambling laws to force eLottery to shut down its first online lottery venture, with an Idaho Indian tribe. ELottery had not earned a dime since.

    The Senate had passed the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act in late 1999, aiming to make it easier for authorities to stop online gambling sites. With a companion bill by Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.) advancing in the House in the spring of 2000, eLottery was desperate to ramp up its Washington lobbying. It had to sell off assets to stay afloat and raise cash.

    In May, eLottery hired Abramoff's firm, Preston Gates & Ellis LLP, for $100,000 a month, according to lobbying reports. In the following months, Abramoff directed the company to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to various organizations, faxes, e-mails and court records show. The groups included Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform; Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition; companies affiliated with Reed; and a Seattle Orthodox Jewish foundation, Toward Tradition.

    Robert Daum, a former eLottery official, said he could not recall the names of the groups that received the payments but noted that all the money spent by the company at Abramoff's direction was for the purpose of defeating the Internet bill.

    "We were willing to pursue all legitimate means to ensure that outcome, as people do all the time in Washington," Daum said. "Nothing more, nothing less."

    Arrayed against eLottery were many leading groups on the religious right who were pushing to ban Internet gambling, including the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. James Dobson, influential leader of Focus on the Family, praised the bill in an opinion piece for the New York Times.

    Still, according to his strategy e-mails, Abramoff thought he could turn conservatives in the House against the bill. He seized on some compromise language in the bill making exceptions for jai alai and horse racing.

    Abramoff's plan: argue that the legislation and its exemptions would actually expand legalized gambling.

    Check in the Mail

    To reach the House conservatives, Abramoff turned to Sheldon, leader of the Orange County, Calif. - based Traditional Values Coalition, a politically potent group that publicly opposed gambling and said it represented 43,000 churches. Abramoff had teamed up with Sheldon before on issues affecting his clients. Because of their previous success, Abramoff called Sheldon "Lucky Louie," former associates said.

    Checks and e-mails obtained by The Post show that Abramoff recruited Reed to join Sheldon in the effort to pressure members of Congress. Reed had left the Christian Coalition in 1997 and started a political consulting firm in Georgia.

    Abramoff asked eLottery to write a check in June 2000 to Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). He also routed eLottery money to a Reed company, using two intermediaries, which had the effect of obscuring the source.

    The eLottery money went first to Norquist's foundation, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and then through a second group in Virginia Beach called the Faith and Family Alliance, before it reached Reed's company, Century Strategies. Norquist's group retained a share of the money as it passed through.

    "I have 3 checks from elot: (1) 2 checks for $80K payable to ATR and (2) 1 check to TVC for $25K," Abramoff's assistant Susan Ralston e-mailed him on June 22, 2000. "Let me know exactly what to do next. Send to Grover? Send to Rev. Lou?"

    Minutes later Abramoff responded, saying that the check for Sheldon's group should be sent directly to Sheldon, but that the checks for Norquist required special instructions: "Call Grover, tell him I am in Michigan and that I have two checks for him totaling 160 and need a check back for Faith and Family for $150K."

    According to the e-mails, Reed provided the name and address where Norquist was supposed to send the money: to Robin Vanderwall at a location in Virginia Beach.

    Vanderwall was director of the Faith and Family Alliance, a political advocacy group that was founded by two of Reed's colleagues and then turned over to Vanderwall, Vanderwall said and records show.

    Vanderwall, a former Regent University Law School student and Republican operative, was later convicted of soliciting sex with minors via the Internet and is serving a seven-year term in Virginia state prison.

    In a telephone interview, Vanderwall said that in July 2000 he was called by Reed's firm, Century Strategies, alerting him that he would be receiving a package. When it came, it contained a check payable to Vanderwall's group for $150,000 from Americans for Tax Reform, signed by Norquist. Vanderwall said he followed the instructions from Reed's firm -- depositing the money and then writing a check to Reed's firm for an identical amount.

    "I was operating as a shell," Vanderwall said, adding that he was never told how the money was spent. He said: "I regret having had anything to do with it."

    Abramoff had previously paid Reed's consulting firms to whip up Christian opposition to Indian casinos and a proposed Alabama state lottery that would compete with the gambling business of Abramoff's tribal clients, sometimes using Norquist's foundation as a pass-through, a Senate investigation has found.

    A spokeswoman for Reed said Century Strategies had no business relationship with eLottery. She said Reed did anti-gambling work for Abramoff but was assured by Abramoff's firm "that our activities would not be funded by revenues derived from gambling activities."

    Norquist declined to be interviewed. His spokesman did not answer questions about the movement of funds.

    Another check issued in 2000 by eLottery at Abramoff's direction wound up helping to fund the Scotland golfing trip attended by Rudy and DeLay. On May 25, 2000, as the trip got underway, the company sent $25,000 to the National Center for Public Policy Research, where Abramoff was a board member at the time. Along with money from another Abramoff client, that payment covered most of the Scotland travel costs, according to records and interviews.

    DeLay has said that he thought the National Center sponsored and paid for the trip.

    A few weeks after the golfing trip, Abramoff took Rudy to the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, Calif. They traveled aboard a corporate jet belonging to SunCruz Casinos, a Florida cruise line Abramoff was negotiating to buy, according to a participant who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. Rudy did not report this trip in his House travel records.

    Abramoff listed Rudy as a financial reference that summer in the SunCruz purchase. That transaction ultimately led to the indictment two months ago of Abramoff and a business partner on charges that they had forged a $23 million wire transfer.

    Working the Bill

    In early June 2000, DeLay had not yet taken a position on the Internet gambling ban. But his aide, Rudy, was already providing advice to Abramoff about how to kill it.

    Five days after Rudy and DeLay got back from the Scotland trip, Rudy sent an emergency message to Abramoff from a wireless device.

    "911 gaming," Rudy typed on June 8.

    He followed up with a suggestion that Abramoff's team get a conservative House caucus to seek a meeting with the chamber's top leaders, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) -- a key supporter of the bill. Abramoff forwarded the idea to his team members. "Message from Tony Rudy. Don't share it please. However we should take his advice."

    Sheldon was also hard at work, holding news conferences and buttonholing House conservatives to argue against the bill. On July 10, he called Abramoff's group saying he had run into resistance from the staff of an influential member who still favored the bill.

    "Lou just called," team member Shawn Vasell told colleagues in an e-mail. "We need to get together and draft a response for Lou." Kevin Ring, Vasell's associate, responded: "This is a disaster."

    Abramoff weighed in minutes later, saying he would get Reed to ramp up efforts. "I just chatted with Ralph. We are going to have to go on the air nationally on radio. We must get the conservatives back on this or we are doomed," he told the team.

    Abramoff got another strategy e-mail the next morning from Rudy. Rudy was on DeLay's staff but wrote "we" as though he belonged to Abramoff's team. "I think we should get weyrich to get like 10 groups to sign a letter to denny and armey on gaming bill," Rudy wrote, referring to Free Congress Foundation Chairman Paul M. Weyrich and the House leaders.

    Sheldon got a private meeting with DeLay on July 13. "I told him I strongly opposed the bill," Sheldon told Congressional Quarterly at the time.

    A former DeLay staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, "Lou was a credible face" because Sheldon's religious credentials carried some weight with conservative voters.

    DeLay then told House Republican leaders that he was prepared to go against the anti-gambling bill.

    The Bush Forgery

    Still, the Abramoff team was worried about the vote. So the eLottery forces pressed the argument that the Internet bill was an unfair infringement of the right of individual states to sell lottery tickets online. Amid the frenzied lobbying, a potentially influential letter making that case began circulating on Capitol Hill. It was purportedly signed by Jeb Bush.

    "While I am no fan of gambling, I see this bill as a violation of states' rights and I am looking to prevent this encroachment," the letter said.

    A surprised Hill staffer called the Florida governor's office, and the letter was exposed as a forgery.

    Months later, a little-noted investigation by Florida authorities resulted in a confession from a Tampa man hired by a division of Shandwick Worldwide, a public affairs company. Shandwick was working on the eLottery account with Abramoff's team. The Florida man, Matthew Blair, told authorities in a plea bargain agreement that he was hired to get letters opposing the bill from the governor and others. He said he created the forged letter on his own after he was unable to obtain one from Bush's office.

    Brian Berger, then a Shandwick official, said his firm had been hired to produce the letters by Abramoff associate Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay press aide. Berger said in a recent interview that although he and Scanlon knew Blair, they did not sanction the forgery. "Essentially, we had a bad operative," Berger said.

    But the letter still had an impact. It fed the confusion about the bill in the days before the floor vote. Goodlatte, the sponsor, had more than enough votes for his carefully crafted compromise. Yet he became worried that amendments might be introduced during the debate that could kill the bill.

    One way to avoid a floor fight is to place a bill on the suspension calendar, which is supposed to be for non-controversial legislation; it suspends the usual rules, banning amendments and limiting debate. But doing so would require a two-thirds majority for passage.

    Goodlatte agreed to the suspension calendar approach because he thought he could get the two-thirds. "We were told [by House leaders] to bring it up on the suspension calendar so you won't have to deal with all these amendments," said a member of Goodlatte's staff who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

    That opening was exploited by the Abramoff team with Rudy's help -- fewer votes would be needed to stop the bill.

    On July 17, the House debated for about 40 minutes. Rumors continued to fly about the Bush letter. Some members remained confused about the bill's contents. About 30 did not vote. "There was a lot of misinformation," said a congressional staff member who worked on the bill.

    Still, Goodlatte had reason to be optimistic because nine out of 10 bills on the suspension calendar pass.

    But Abramoff's efforts had eroded just enough votes. The roll call -- 245 in favor, 159 against -- left Goodlatte 25 members short. The bill failed.

    'All Systems Go'

    The eLottery team was euphoric. Abramoff lobbyist Patrick Pizzella, who was in the Capitol to watch the vote, wrote in an e-mail to colleagues the next day that he saw Sheldon celebrating the victory, too. "There was lucky Louie out front hi-fiving with some lobbyists," said Pizzella, who the following year was named an assistant secretary of labor. Others partied across from the Capitol at the restaurant Tortilla Coast.

    Supporters of the Internet gambling ban, though, were outraged. They vowed to resurrect it, perhaps as part of an appropriations bill.

    The Christian Coalition issued an "action alert." Dobson took to the airwaves, saying, "I'm just sick about what the Republican leadership is doing with regard to gambling." He urged listeners to contact DeLay and other House leaders to revive the measure.

    Abramoff's team realized there was no way to win enough support for a simple majority because they were down more than two dozen votes. Instead, they had to persuade the leadership to keep the bill off the House floor, despite intense pressure from Goodlatte and another backer, Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) .

    On July 21, DeLay's legislative director, Kathryn Lehman, e-mailed Rudy: "Goodlatte and Tauzin asked Tom [DeLay] what they needed to do to get his vote, and Tom said to talk to you!"

    Rudy immediately forwarded the e-mail to Abramoff asking for help.

    Documents show that Abramoff's strategy was to dispatch Sheldon to pressure about 10 social conservatives in their home districts, accusing them of being soft on gambling for supporting Goodlatte's bill. Abramoff's group hoped those members would stir fears among House leaders that another vote on the gambling bill could threaten those members and thus the GOP's thin 13-seat majority.

    On Aug. 18, Abramoff faxed a message to eLottery's Daum ordering more money for Reed's activities. "I have chatted with Ralph and we need to get the funding moving on the effort in the 10 congressional districts," Abramoff wrote. "Please get me a check as soon as possible for $150,000 made payable to American Marketing Inc. This is the company Ralph is using."

    ELottery issued the requested check to American Marketing on Aug. 24 and delivered it to Abramoff at Preston Gates. Five days later, Abramoff e-mailed Reed. The subject, "Internet Gambling: And so it continues." The message asked, "Where are we? You got the check, no? Are things moving?"

    Reed answered the next day: "1. Yes, they got it. 2. Yes, all systems go."

    Targeting 'Our Guys'

    Weeks later, a political mailer from Sheldon's group landed like a small bomb in the North Alabama district of Rep. Robert Aderholt.

    The Republican was a member of the religious right's Values Action Team in Congress, a champion of public displays of the Ten Commandments and a vigorous gambling opponent. But now, in the midst of a tough reelection race, Aderholt was accused of being soft on gambling.

    "Congressman Robert Aderholt voted with them in support of HR #3125 with the law the gamblers want on horse and dog racing," said Sheldon's mailer. Sheldon urged voters to call Aderholt's Washington office "and ask him to vote NO this time." Aderholt's opponent quickly incorporated Sheldon's attack in an ad of his own.

    The bulk rate stamp on the mailing said it was paid for by American Marketing. Records show that the company is run by Robert Randolph, the president of Reed's direct-marketing subsidiary. A spokeswoman for Reed said that American Marketing is "a different company" and that she could not respond to questions about it.

    Sheldon's fliers also targeted Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, then the House GOP deputy whip, and vulnerable incumbents, including Rep. James E. Rogan of California, one of the managers of the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, and Rep. Robin Hayes of North Carolina.

    Angry House members targeted by Sheldon complained to the leadership. "Certainly our displeasure was relayed on up the chain, so to speak," said Andrew Duke, the chief of staff for Hayes.

    Abramoff's willingness to jeopardize Republican House seats startled his lobbying team, some of whom had come from DeLay's office. "Once we started talking about taking out our guys, I got worried," said a former associate of Abramoff's who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

    The same former Preston Gates lobbyist said Rudy played a key role in getting House leaders to pay attention to the plight of members under attack.

    "Tony would say to members, 'Oh, you're getting phone calls on this? I better go tell the whip.' Lou Sheldon sending a letter is not going to do anything unless you have somebody on the inside. Tony exaggerated to leadership how backing the bill could hurt those members," the former Abramoff associate said.

    The outrage prompted Sheldon to back off in some of the races. In Aderholt's district, he issued a letter praising the congressman and claiming that his previous mailer had been mistakenly distributed. In Rogan's district, he stopped pressuring the incumbent and, instead, attacked his challenger as "a champion of the homosexual agenda."

    Sheldon said in an interview this week that he recalled little about his efforts against the bill in 2000. He said he did not remember receiving a $25,000 check from eLottery, but added that it is possible that his organization did receive it. He said he remembered some money coming in to pay for fliers he had printed and mailed to congressional districts to persuade members to oppose the bill.

    "I wasn't aware the money was coming from them [eLottery]," Sheldon said. "I don't think I ever saw the check. It came in, and we paid the bill for some of the printing."

    Sheldon also said he had no idea that Abramoff was lobbying against the bill or that he was working for eLottery.

    "This is all tied to Jack?" Sheldon said. "I'm shocked out of my socks."

    Chilling Effect

    Rudy, who had known Abramoff for years, went to work for Abramoff when the lobbyist switched law firms, to Greenberg Traurig LLP, in January 2001.

    Rudy's wife, Lisa, was also drawn into Abramoff's orbit. She was paid fees by Toward Tradition, the Seattle-based Orthodox Jewish foundation that often allies with the Christian right on social issues. The foundation is headed by longtime Abramoff friend Rabbi Daniel Lapin and the lobbyist served as chairman of the board.

    Toward Tradition was issued a $25,000 check dated Aug. 24, 2000, by eLottery. A copy of the check was obtained by The Post. Daum, the former eLottery official, said he could not remember the check but said all funds Abramoff directed him to spend were intended to defeat the Internet gambling bill.

    Lapin said in an interview that he could not remember a check from eLottery but that the company could have made donations to his foundation. He said that any such donation would have been separate from his foundation's hiring of Liberty Consulting, a political firm founded and operated by Lisa Rudy.

    "Lisa Rudy worked for us for six months -- six to nine months -- to organize groundwork for a conference," Lapin said. He said she was paid more than $25,000 but was unsure exactly how and when Lisa Rudy was hired. Lapin said her work could have been for an interfaith conference held in Washington in mid-September 2000. That conference, which opened a few weeks after the eLottery check was sent to Toward Tradition, featured such speakers as DeLay, Sheldon and Norquist.

    Rudy declined to comment on the Toward Tradition contract and said that his wife was not available for a comment.

    A month after the interfaith conference, the gambling bill's sponsors agitated to get House leaders to let them attach the measure to an end-of-the-year spending bill.

    But Sheldon's campaign in conservative districts had the desired chilling effect on GOP leaders. That became clear on Oct. 24, when House Republicans met to discuss their year-end strategy.

    What happened at the meeting was relayed to Abramoff by a former associate, David H. Safavian, who was then a lobbyist for a coalition of online gambling companies and who this month was indicted for allegedly lying to federal investigators in the Abramoff probe.

    DeLay, Safavian wrote in an e-mail, "spoke up and noted that the bill could cost as many as four House seats. At that point, there was silence. Not even Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) -- our previous opponent -- said a word."

    When Congress prepared to adjourn in 2000 without revisiting the gambling bill, Safavian was ecstatic. He sent his clients an e-mail, which was posted on the Web site of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

    "Relax a bit," Safavian wrote. "Policy beat politics once again. (Maybe the American system isn't really that bad.) The good guys won."

    Researchers Alice Crites and Julie Tate contributed to this report


    See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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