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U.S. attorney assisting probe of Massachusetts Bishop

The Springfield Republican
March 5, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Federal prosecutors have offered assistance to the district attorney as he examines a wealth of possibilities for pursuing the first criminal trial of a Catholic bishop for sexually abusing minors.

Despite hurdles presented by statute of limitations laws, Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett made clear yesterday that the facts underlying the case against ex-bishop Thomas L. Dupre offer prosecutors a range of potential charges.

Although the 15-year deadline for child rape charges has expired, Bennett said other charges against Dupre could include federal crimes related to interstate travel with minors he is accused of abusing. A grand jury will soon hear testimony about an array of possible criminal activity, Bennett said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William M. Welch II yesterday said federal prosecutors in Springfield began discussions with Bennett almost immediately after Dupre resigned Feb. 11 as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. The resignation came amid allegations he raped two men over 20 years ago, when he was a parish priest and they were 12 and 13.

A lawyer for the men has said Dupre took his clients on trips to New York, Connecticut and New Hampshire, among other places, including Canada. Interstate travel can propel state-driven rape charges to federal court, where sentences are more onerous.

"It's completely understood that the district attorney's office is driving this investigation, but to the extent that we can offer any assistance or resources, we have offered it," Welch said yesterday, adding that his office has had subsequent discussions about the case with Bennett.

Under federal law, interstate travel involving the sexual exploitation of a child carries a maximum sentence of 20 years for first-time offenders. But the statute of limitations for the federal charge would mirror that of the underlying state charge of child rape: 15 years after the victim turns 16.

Canada, however, has no statute of limitations for serious sex crimes, including rape.

Dupre's alleged victims are now 39 and 40; they only came forward after The Republican submitted questions to Dupre Feb. 10 about the abuse. Dupre resigned Feb. 11 and checked himself into a Maryland facility that treats patients with a range of disorders, including those accused of sexually abusing children.

Other charges Dupre could potentially face, according to Bennett and other lawyers:

Witness intimidation, if it is found Dupre made efforts to influence or silence the men; incidents must have occurred within six years of the date of an indictment; 10-year maximum sentence Obstruction of justice, if it is found that Dupre impeded in any way a criminal investigation of which he was aware; incidents must have occurred within six years of an indictment; 10-year maximum sentence Act in aid of concealment; if it is found that Dupre covered up evidence of the abuse allegations against him or others; charges must be brought within 15 years of the crime (of concealment); maximum sentence unclear Failure to report sexual abuse allegations to the appropriate authorities; maximum one-year jail sentence Conspiracy, if Dupre and others conspired to cover up the alleged abuse; 10-year maximum sentence

Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents the two alleged victims, said the charge related to failing to report abuse may be problematic considering the Fifth Amendment right that precludes people from self-incrimination. But that does not exclude others who may have known about the allegations, MacLeish said.

"And I have reason to believe there are others," he said, while refusing to provide names.

MacLeish has said two letters and an e-mail were sent to the bishop about the allegations against him. Diocesan officials have said they did not find any such communications after the bishop's abrupt departure.

Dupre's lawyer, Michael O. Jennings, said he was surprised to learn that diocesan officials allowed investigators to search Dupre's office at the chancery on Elliot Street. He also bristled at Bennett's request that the diocese open the doors to Dupre's second-floor personal quarters as well. "If they want to search his personal quarters, they should go to a judge and get a warrant," he said.

Jennings has advised Dupre not to comment on the allegations. He also declined to comment on the potential for other charges yesterday.

During his public announcement yesterday, Bennett said he also will explore evidence that may allow for an extension of the statute of limitations on rape charges.

But prominent criminal lawyer Vincent A. Bongiorni of Springfield said that while he considers an indictment against Dupre likely, overcoming legal deadlines for bringing rape charges will be challenging.

"There're a number of ways in which the statute of limitations is not absolute ... but the law states the statute should be liberally interpreted in favor of repose," Bongiorni said, meaning that statutes of limitations are anything but loopholes for prosecutors.

Bongiorni noted that among the ways prosecutors have historically tolled or extended statutes of limitations include arguments related to whether a defendant spends significant amounts of time out of the state or country in which a crime is committed, or whether some kind of concealment takes place in the aftermath of a crime.

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