JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Federal prosecutors want a judge to freeze the assets of a Pennsylvania priest who owes $70,000 in fines and restitution after he was convicted of sexually assaulting poor street children during missionary trips to Honduras.
The Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr., 71, transferred 42 acres of land and his home for $1 to his niece in November, after he was convicted, and has continued trying to transfer money from his financial accounts to her since his March 2 sentencing, according to the motion filed Friday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Haines.
But defense attorney Thomas Farrell said in an email that Friday's motion "shows a lack of common courtesy" because the transfers are being made so the niece — who is the priest's power of attorney — can pay the penalties.
Farrell, one of two attorneys representing the priest on appeal, said the attorneys are to blame for not providing clearer instructions to the niece "on when and how the payments should be made" and said she has been making arrangements to pay the penalties.
Maurizio was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison, fined $50,000 and ordered to pay each of his two Honduran victims $10,000 restitution. U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson gave the suspended priest until March 18 to pay the fines and restitution, Haines said.
A phone call recorded on March 8 between Maurizio and his niece from the Cambria County jail involved "transferring assets from his financial accounts and leaving those accounts with a zero balance," Haines said in the motion.
"Any other litigant would have had the courtesy to call or emails us, and the oversight would have been fixed" without wasting the court's time, Farrell said in his email.
A spokeswoman for Haines' office didn't immediately respond to Farrell's statement.
Maurizio is in the county jail awaiting his assignment to a federal prison.
Maurizio's niece, Christine Shaulis, of Windber, declined comment when contacted Friday by The Associated Press.
Maurizio was sentenced a day after the Pennsylvania attorney general issued a scathing report saying two former bishops who supervised Maurizio and other priests in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese covered up, or were slow to respond to, child sex abuse by more than 50 priests over more than 40 years.
According to the report, a whistleblower accused Maurizio in 2009 and the diocese conducted its own investigation into the sexual tourism allegations eventually filed by the government in September 2014.
Documents obtained by the attorney general "show a high-ranking Diocesan official concluding the alleged conduct was 'impossible,'" the report said.
However, a federal jury in September convicted Maurizio of molesting three boys, though Gibson eventually threw out a conviction involving a victim who recanted at trial. Maurizio was convicted of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places — also known as sexual tourism — money laundering and possessing child pornography.
Maurizio's attorneys have said he maintains his innocence and plans to appeal.
Gibson has yet to schedule a hearing on the asset-freeze request