A suspended Central City priest was arraigned Wednesday on his latest set of charges alleging he used mission trips to Honduras to have sex with street orphans there.
But the Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr.’s defense attorney described the new indictment as old claims, ones the FBI investigated in 2009 and then dismissed.
“When (a prosecutor’s) original charge falls apart, their M-O is always to add more victims and more charges,” Attorney Stephen Passarello said of the new counts, which allege Maurizio abused two more Honduran boys and transferred mission-trip money to the country to facilitate his crimes.
“I’m not seeing anything new here,” he said. “It’s still the same allegations the FBI (investigated) before their case was closed in 2010.”
A thinner, somewhat frail-looking Maurizio appeared for his brief arraignment at U.S. District Court in Johnstown to enter a “not guilty” plea.
Passarello said Maurizio will continue seeking a jury trial – and the attorney vowed he’ll do “everything I can” to keep the defendant’s scheduled September trial date from being delayed.
Jail has been difficult for the 69-year-old priest, he said.
A small crowd attended Thursday’s proceeding, waving to Maurizio as he entered. They left court afterward, declining comment although one man identified himself as a church deacon said he was there to support Maurizio.
Prosecutors, who did not address the court Thursday, allege Maurizio used his self-run charity, Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries, to make regular visits to an orphanage between 1999 and 2009.
There, he promised cash and candy to orphans for sex acts or to watch them shower, a grand jury indictment states.
Alleged victims are identified as Minor 1, Minor 2 and Minor 3 and the latest indictment alleges that sex acts were committed on one or more of them beginning in 2004.
Passarello maintains a rival Honduran charity has coerced individuals to testify against Maurizio. The group drummed up false stories to “get rid of Father Joe” and gain control of the orphanage where he has worked, he said.
Allegations involving all three boys were thoroughly investigated five years ago and the FBI saw no reason to prosecute, the priest’s lawyer said.
Current charges stem from a separate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation.
“The United States has said that they can prove this and show that, but they’ve yet to show anything to indicate they have a case,” Passarello said.
He said defense investigators have conducted their own interviews and investigation in Honduras that strengthen Maurizio’s assertion of innocence.
Passarello would not discuss specifics but said he is awaiting additional information.