Somerset County priest Maurizio seeks to bar evidence that grand jury didn't hear or rejected
The attorney for a Somerset County priest accused of sexually abusing an orphaned boy in Honduras in 2009 wants jurors to be barred from hearing evidence that a grand jury either never heard or rejected.
Altoona attorney Steven Passarello filed the pretrial motion in U.S. District Court in Johnstown on behalf of the Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr., former pastor at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Central City.
In a separate motion, Passarello is seeking to sever the two criminal charges against Maurizio, which could force separate trials.
Maurizio is charged with engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places and possession of material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor. A federal indictment accuses Maurizio of traveling to Honduras between Feb. 26 and March 13, 2009, to have sex with an underage boy.
Maurizio, who has pleaded not guilty, has been held in the Cambria County Jail since Sept. 24.
Federal officials said the priest, under the guise of doing relief work through a self-run charity based in Johnstown, Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries, visited 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 alleges Maurizio possessed at least one image of child pornography on Sept. 12, the day agents executed search warrants at his Windber home and the parish rectory.
In the motion to sever the two charges, Passarello argues prosecutors have failed to show the two offenses, allegedly committed five years apart, are the result of the same act. Federal rules allow separate counts in a single indictment only when they are similar in nature, based on the same act or share a common “scheme or plan,” according to the motion.
“The United States of America appears to be employing the strategy that if both charges are able to be presented to the same jury, convictions can be secured on the theory that evidence of one crime means evidence of the other, separate crime in violation of Joseph D. Maurizio Jr.'s right to have an independent verdict on each crime alleged,” Passarello wrote.
In the motion to limit certain evidence at trial, Passarello points out that although prosecutors said they presented grand jurors with “evidence of multiple individuals that were allegedly subject to improper contact” by Maurizio, the indictment is for just one victim.
In addition, Passarrello contends that while prosecutors have said they have “evidence of other uncharged conduct,” including overseas phone calls that allegedly bolster their case, none of the alleged evidence has yet been provided to the defense.
Passarello wants evidence that was not presented to the grand jury or that was rejected by the jury excluded from Maurizio's trial.
“Permitting evidence of uncharged conduct that has not been put before the rigors of grand jury examination poses a great risk of unfair prejudice,” Passarello wrote. “It essentially allows any individual to make any accusation and cause the strength of that accusation to be tested for the first time before a jury sitting in judgment on an unrelated matter.”
The two sides are to hold a discovery conference Wednesday in Pittsburgh, according to Passarello's motion.
Prosecutors have until Dec. 18 to respond to the motion to sever the two offenses. A deadline for a response to the motion to exclude evidence has not been set.
Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or [email protected].