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Attorney for Somerset County priest opposes witness in child-sex case

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Somerset County priest Joseph Maurizio was convicted of molesting Honduran orphans.

The attorney for a Somerset County priest accused of traveling to Central and South America to have sex with orphaned boys doesn’t want jurors to hear from a psychologist who treats sexually abused children and sex offenders.

The Rev. Joseph D. Maurizio has been held in the Cambria County jail on a federal detainer since Sept. 25, when he was arrested on a grand jury’s allegations he visited a Honduran orphanage under the guise of performing charity work but really wanted to have sex with boys.

His trial, expected to last at least three weeks, is set to begin Sept. 8 in U.S. District Court in Johnstown.

In pretrial motions, Maurizio’s attorney, Steven Passarello of Altoona, has asked Judge Kim R. Gibson to bar federal prosecutor Amy E. Larson from calling clinical psychologist Veronique Nicole Valliere of Fogelsville to testify.

Valliere did not interview any of the alleged victims. Passarello contends she will be called to testify in general regarding Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome, or CSAAS. He said the syndrome purports to identify common behaviors of child sex-abuse victims, including secrecy, delayed disclosure and retraction.

CSAAS has been used at other trials primarily to bolster the credibility of witnesses, including those who recant, Passarello said in the motion. He argued Larson likely will call Valliere “to specifically introduce CSAAS evidence on the issue of recantation by the alleged victims.”

In response, Larson in court documents said Valliere will not testify regarding any syndromes, including CSAAS. Her testimony will center on general characteristics of child sex-abuse victims and perpetrators, to include the manner in which victims report — and recant — the abuse.

“Federal courts have universally allowed expert witnesses to provide testimony regarding such matters,” Larson said in her response. “While Dr. Valliere may testify about various victim characteristics that impact disclosure, victim-offender dynamics and offender characteristics, she will not testify about the existence of Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome.”

Passarello argued the two are one and the same.

“A horse of a different color is still a horse,” Passarello said in one of the motions. “The testimony the government intends to offer is substantially similar in nature to the tenants of CSAAS or so intrinsically related to CSAAS that it would be nearly indistinguishable from the same.”

Larson has asked Gibson to deny Passarello’s motions seeking to bar Valliere from testifying.

Gibson as of Friday had not issued an order on Passarello’s motions.

In a separate pretrial ruling, Gibson denied a defense motion that sought to bar prosecutors from presenting evidence of “other uncharged conduct” and international phone calls that are described as “illuminating” of Maurizio’s alleged motives.

In a separate ruling, Gibson denied a prosecution motion seeking to bar the defense from presenting evidence of the victims’ sexual predispositions or histories.

Maurizio is charged in the federal grand jury indictment with four counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places at various times between 2004 and 2009; one count of possession of child pornography; and three counts of transporting, transmitting or transferring funds into or out of the United States with the intent to promote carrying on an unlawful activity.

Federal officials said the priest used a self-run charity based in Johnstown, Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries, to visit an orphanage numerous times between 1999 and 2009, promising candy and cash to boys to watch them shower, have sex or fondle them.

The indictment identifies three minor victims, all boys. It alleges two of the boys, identified as Minor 1 and Minor 2, were sexually assaulted between Feb. 26 and March 13, 2009. The third boy, Minor 3, was assaulted sometime between March 5, 2004, and March 11, 2007, and between March 3 and 14, 2008, according to the indictment.

In addition, the indictment alleges Maurizio sent checks totaling $8,000 to another charity, ProNino USA, to facilitate the trips.

Passarello has repeatedly said Maurizio is innocent of the allegations.

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or [email protected].

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