Federal Authorities Arrest Suspended Catholic Priest
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment against Israel Berríos-Berríos, a suspended Catholic priest, for sex trafficking of children and transporting a minor with the intent to engage criminal sexual conduct, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.
The indictment alleges that from in or about the year 2007, through in or about 2008, Berríos-Berríos, while affecting interstate commerce, did knowingly recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain and maintain, a 14-15 year-old male, identified as “John Doe,” knowing that said minor had not attained the age of 18. Defendant transported minor “John Doe” in an automobile owned and used by the San José Parish, from Aibonito, PR, to the defendant’s residence located in Naranjito, PR, knowing that “John Doe” would engage in a commercial sex act.
From on or about July 21, 2008, through on or about July 30, 2008, the defendant transported “John Doe” to the City of Miami, Florida, where together they took a four-day cruise to the Bahamas aboard the vessel known as “Majesty of the Seas,” knowing that minor “John Doe” would engage in a commercial sext act.
“Unfortunately, sexual abuse of children has become all too common in Puerto Rico,” said United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. “The USAO for the District of Puerto Rico is committed to taking full advantage of our investigative tools in order to protect our children from sexual predators. I urge the public to be on the lookout for children being transported anywhere within Puerto Rico for the purpose of engaging in any sexual activity, and to contact the authorities immediately.”
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshal D. Morgan, Coordinator of the initiative Project Safe Childhood. If convicted, the defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of incarceration of ten years and a possible maximum statutory penalty of life imprisonment.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ offices and CEOS, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.
“These allegations are especially disturbing given the position of trust the defendant has occupied,” said Ángel M. Meléndez, special agent in charge of HSI San Juan. “Identifying people who violate their positions of public trust by contributing to the exploitation of children is a top priority for HSI. Anyone who targets children for sexual exploitation should also consider themselves a target by HSI and by our law enforcement partners regardless of who they are. We have an obligation to protect those most vulnerable in our society who cannot protect themselves.”
A criminal indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. Defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.