Warrant says accused priest used smartphone app to communicate with boys
A Somerset County priest accused of traveling to Honduras to have sex with a boy used a translation app on a smartphone to ask Spanish-speaking boys whether they were sexually active or wanted to come to the United States with him, according to a search warrant application.
A federal grand jury indicted the Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr., 69, former pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels in Central City, on charges of traveling to Honduras to have sex with an orphaned teen boy and possessing material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor.
Defense attorney Steven Passarello has repeatedly said that the suspended priest is innocent.
A federal magistrate will hold a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Johnstown to determine whether Maurizio will be detained while awaiting trial. He has been held in the Cambria County Jail since his arrest Sept. 25.
Maurizio is accused of abusing children under the guise of doing mission work for a self-run charity based in Johns-town, Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries.
An Oct. 7 indictment accuses Maurizio of traveling to Honduras between Feb. 26 and March 13, 2009, to have sex with “Minor No. 1.”It alleges he possessed at least one image of child pornography when search warrants were executed at his Windber home and the parish rectory Sept. 12.
Officials at a Honduran orphanage allegedly overheard boys arguing about whether they should tell staff that Maurizio was offering candy and cash to watch them shower, have sex or fondle them, court records show.
Maurizio, who said he worked with orphanages in El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico, Bolivia and Peru, told federal agents the allegations were part of a political plot by the Honduran government to force him to leave the country, a criminal complaint said.
In a 32-page warrant application unsealed last week, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Molly Rock said customs agents inspected Maurizio's cellphone and digital camera when he returned from overseas missions in March and August.
Agents examined Maurizio's cellphone when he flew into Atlanta on Aug. 1 after a trip to a Costa Rican church. He used the Google Translate app to communicate with Spanish-speaking boys, Rock wrote.
In one translated message, Maurizio asked a minor boy if he was having sex with his girlfriend. In another, Maurizio asked a 15- to 16-year-old boy if he wanted to return to the United States with him. When the boy said yes, Maurizio told him he would have to wait until he turned 18, according to the application.
In another series of messages, Maurizio asked a 17-year-old Costa Rican boy if the boy would miss him.
“Are you going to miss me when I'm gone?” Maurizio wrote, as per the translation. “I'm going to be gone for a long time. I won't come back for eight months until March of 2015 so tell me you're gonna miss me.”
Maurizio told the boy he would miss the teen, but he advised him that when he returned, “you're going to be 18 years old you going to be 1 big man okay.”
In the same conversation, one of the participants asks, “What are you saying are you saying that you want me to come and spend 1 night where with who.”
The inspection revealed several hundred photos of minors taken during Maurizio's travels, but none depicted the children engaged in sexual activities, according to the application.
Rock singled out two images. One is described as a blurry photo of a 14- to 17-year old boy, clothed, from the waist down, at a group home in the Dominican Republic. The other depicts the lower torso and shins of an 11- to 13-year-old boy who was wearing a wet T-shirt and swimming trunks at a beach in the Dominican Republic.
A video Rock said appears to have been taken at Maurizio's Windber residence on July 27 depicts two men digging postholes for a cabin, but it is focused on a young boy seated on a nearby ATV.
Agents who examined Maurizio's cellphone and digital camera when he returned from a trip on March 19 to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport found no images of child pornography, but inspectors failed to review the camera's memory card, according to the application.
Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or [email protected].