Former cop regrets silence on church scandal - East Valley Tribune: News

Former cop regrets silence on church scandal

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Posted: Wednesday, June 11, 2003 11:27 pm | Updated: 1:52 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

A retired Chandler police lieutenant who investigated a sexual conduct case against former Chandler and Scottsdale priest John Giandelone said he was asked by an attorney for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix to keep the case quiet.

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Ramiro Villa, who now is a court enforcement manager for Fresno, Calif., said he regrets the decision he and his supervisors made in 1984 to honor the attorney's request and not immediately alert the media to the case. News of Giandelone's case did not appear until court proceedings began in 1984, he said.

"If we made it public at the time, we would be able to find other victims, but we were told not to do this," Villa said. "I wish we would have gone public because later on, I found out (Giandelone) had other victims."

During an interview with Giandelone, when the priest confessed to sexually assaulting Chandler teenager Harry Takata and another victim he did not name, Villa said a Phoenix diocese representative was present.

"After (Giandelone) confessed to doing it all, I got a call from the church's attorney, who asked me to keep it quiet," Villa said.

That attorney was Bill Mahoney, he said. Mahoney, who is deceased, was the same attorney who asked a former priest to have the Takata family take back the complaint it filed with the Chandler Police Department against Giandelone, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

Giandelone, who was convicted of assault and spent a year in prison, has become a flashpoint in a yearlong investigation of the Phoenix diocese by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

On June 2, County Attorney Richard Romley announced the indictment of six current or former priests and a settlement in which Bishop Thomas O'Brien admitted that he allowed priests accused of sexual misconduct to work with children. The agreement gives O'Brien limited immunity from prosecution.

Romley said he had enough evidence to prosecute the bishop on a charge of obstruction of justice for covering up sexual abuse.

According to documents of a December 2002 interview between a county attorney's office investigator and former priest Joseph Ladensack, O'Brien became angry when he learned that Ladensack encouraged members of the Takata family to report Giandelone's sexual abuse of their son to police instead of going first to O'Brien. Ladensack told the investigator that O'Brien instructed him to ask the Takata family to take back its complaint. Ladensack refused.

Two days later, Mahoney called with the same request. Ladensack again refused.

James Belanger, an attorney for the diocese, has said that Ladensack's statements contradict his earlier civil testimony in a 1990 deposition, when the former priest said O'Brien told him he had done his duty by having the Takata family go to the police.

Villa said he had no knowledge in 1984 of the alleged attempts to have the Takata family rescind its complaint. Yet he, too, was feeling pressure from Mahoney.

"They just wanted to keep it quiet," he said.

Stephen Rempe, who worked with Mahoney as counsel representing Giandelone and the Phoenix diocese, said cases like Giandelone's were low-key back then because little was known about pedophilia or how to treat the condition.

"It wouldn't surprise me if my old boss, Bill Mahoney, would want to keep this out of the paper because that's how it was done back then," he said. "No one was running to the papers."

Former Chandler Police Chief Bobby Joe Harris, who was a patrol lieutenant at the time of the Giandelone case, said it wasn't uncommon for the department to receive calls from attorneys with requests about cases that involved their clients.

As for the Giandelone case, Harris said sex abuse by priests was not a high-profile issue 20 years ago, and the media wasn't as aggressive about getting information from police, especially in Chandler.

"We were just a little podunk city that no one really cared about," he said. At the time, the department didn't have a public information officer or a formal process of notifying the media, he said.

It also was a time when people weren't as sensitive to issues of domestic violence, victim's rights and child abuse, he said.

"There would be no information withheld like that today," Harris said.

Today, the practice is to release information, especially in sex abuse cases because they can encourage other victims to come forward, he said.

"You'll find in child abuse and a lot of sexual abuse cases, there's an element of shame in it,” he said. “But there's safety in numbers."

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