2009-05-28 / Local & State

Priest Gets 3 To 6 Years For $900k Theft In Philadelphia

By MARYCLAIRE DALE ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A priest and former principal of the largest Roman Catholic high school in Philadelphia was sent to prison Friday for three to six years for stealing $900,000, allegedly to buy silence from students he molested.

The Rev. Charles Newman, 58, also used the money to ply current or former students with drugs and alcohol, relatives and authorities charged.

"I think he spent it on kids like Arthur Baselice, to keep them quiet. Until he says otherwise, that's what I believe. And he hasn't said otherwise,'' Assistant District Attorney Charles Gallagher said.

The case grew out of the city's explosive grand jury investigation into priest sexual abuse in the Philadelphia archdiocese, which Gallagher helped lead.

Former student Arthur Baselice III told authorities that Newman started sexually abusing him in 1995, when he was a junior and Newman was principal of Archbishop Ryan High School. The pair would meet at Newman's office or residence and often used drugs together while having sex, prosecutors said.

Baselice tried unsuccessfully to sue the archdiocese before dying of a drug overdose in 2006 at age 28. Over the years, Newman gave him $54,000, in part to feed his drug habit, Baselice's lawyer has said.

In court Friday, retired Philadelphia police officer Arthur Baselice Jr. called Newman, who also must serve 10 years probation, "a vicious predator'' who took advantage of his son.

Newman, though, described their relationship as consensual and said it began only after Baselice turned 18. He told the judge he gave away the stolen money, leading Gallagher to question why none of the recipients testified for him.

Forensic audits show he stole $331,000 from the school and more than $550,000 from his religious order, the Franciscan Friars, prosecutors said.

The defense argued that much of the total was doublecounted because it had been in both accounts. Defense attorney Frank DeSimone put the theft total at less than $400,000.

The city's September 2005 grand jury report documented alleged assaults on minors by more than 60 Philadelphia Archdiocese priests since 1967, and accused church leaders of covering them up. Baselice overdosed the day it came out.

Prosecutors reluctantly concluded they could not prosecute the other priests due to legal time limits under existing Pennsylvania law. The statutes have since been revised to extend filing deadlines for child sexual-assault victims until age 50.

Gallagher believes that Newman sexually abused at least three or four other underage students, but said they are not ready to go public with their stories.

Newman spent more than 20 years as a teacher and principal at Ryan before becoming president - and gaining control of various bank accounts - in 2002. He was fired 15 months later.

"We had staff at Ryan who said kids used to come in all the time and he would give them money,'' Gallagher said.

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