The trial for a Somerset County priest accused of traveling to Central and South America to sexually abuse orphaned boys is set to start in September and last for approximately three weeks.
The Rev. Joseph D. Maurizio has been held in the Cambria County Prison on a federal detainer since Sept. 25, when he was arrested on a grand jury’s allegations that he visited a Honduran orphanage under the guise of performing charity work but really wanted to have sex with boys.
Prosecutor Stephanie L. Haines and defense attorney Steven P. Passarello of Altoona told U.S. District Court Judge Kim R. Gibson on Friday that they anticipate a three-week trial, with both sides requiring government-provided translators because they will be bringing witnesses from Honduras to testify.
Maurizio, who has been suspended as pastor at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Central City, did not attend the brief hearing at the federal courthouse in Johnstown. Some two dozen parishioners who packed the tiny gallery for every other hearing for the Roman Catholic cleric, known as “Father Joe,” were absent as well.
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.
Maurizio is charged in a 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.
The charges carry prison sentences ranging from a maximum of 10 years in prison for child pornography to a maximum 30 years in prison on each of the illicit sexual conduct allegations.
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 victim, Minor #3, was assaulted sometime between March 5, 2004, and March 11, 2007, according to the indictment, and between March 3 and 14, 2008.
In addition, the indictment alleges Maurizio sent checks totaling $8,000 to another charity, ProNino USA, to facilitate the trips.
Jury selection will begin Sept. 8, with Gibson noting he expects to seat 12 jurors and two to four alternates. Attorneys’ opening arguments and testimony are to start Sept. 9.
Haines estimates she will require approximately eight days to present the government’s case.
Passarello said he is arranging flights, housing and security for a two-week period for witnesses he is calling from Honduras. He estimated he will need a week to present their testimony.
The case is expected to go to the jury by Sept. 29.
Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or [email protected].