Where’s Father Manuel? Police hunting priest accused of rape

Manuel Gallo espinoza collage
Manuel Gallo Espinoza

(This story and a follow-up piece, in which Manuel Gallo Espinoza admitted to me that he sexually assaulted a teenage boy, led to the priest’t indictment in May 2016.)

Twelve years ago, amid allegations he raped a 15-year-old boy in the rectory of a Plainfield church, the Rev. Manuel Gallo Espinoza vanished.

The Archdiocese of Newark, where Gallo Espinoza had served as a visiting priest, said he apparently fled to his native Ecuador after church officials informed him of the claim and suspended him from ministry.

Authorities never interviewed him. Within months, the investigation went dark.

Now, with the filing of a lawsuit by his alleged victim and an examination by NJ Advance Media, federal and county authorities have expressed renewed interest in finding and questioning the 51-year-old priest.

The NJ Advance Media investigation — drawing on law enforcement documents, public records and interviews — found that Gallo Espinoza obtained a visa to return to the United States in 2005. Three years later, unbeknownst to authorities in New Jersey, the man accused of raping a teenage boy took a job as a high school teacher in Prince George’s County, Md., the inquiry found.

Gallo Espinoza abruptly left the post in February of last year, a spokesman for the district confirmed. The spokesman, Max Pugh, said he could not disclose the reason for the departure because it was a personnel matter. Pugh said he was unaware of any allegation of sexual misconduct involving the former teacher.

It’s not clear where Gallo Espinoza is now. At his last known address — a block of modest one-and two-story homes in Lanham, Md. — neighbors said no one fitting his description lived at the house. One neighbor said she believed the home had been unoccupied for months.

Read the story at NJ.com (July 30, 2015)

RELATED COVERAGE

Priest admits sex with minor, says teen ‘wanted’ it (Aug. 19, 2015)

In an extraordinary admission of wrongdoing, a priest sought by authorities in New Jersey has acknowledged engaging in a sexual encounter with a 15-year-old boy, but he deflected blame for the incident by saying the teen “wanted” it and had “evil in his mind.”

In a telephone interview with NJ Advance Media, in email exchanges and in a lengthy post he shared publicly on Twitter, the Rev. Manuel Gallo Espinoza said it was a “mistake” to have sexual contact with the boy in the rectory of a Plainfield church in 2003. He said he fled to his native Ecuador after the victim told a nun and another priest that Gallo Espinoza raped him.

“One thing that I am conscious (of) is he was at that time a teenager, and it is a big mistake for me. But I didn’t force him to do anything he didn’t want,” Gallo Espinoza wrote. “He was older (sic) enough to walk away, but I think that I was attracted to him, that is the only explanation that I can think right now.”

Gallo Espinoza added: “He had something evil in his mind. He approached me many times.”

➽ Ex-priest indicted in sexual assault of 15-year-old boy (May 25, 2016)

A former Union County priest who admitted to NJ Advance Media last year he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old boy was indicted by a grand jury Wednesday in connection with the attack.

Manuel Gallo Espinoza, 52, fled to his native Ecuador in 2003 after his victim told another priest and a nun that the clergyman raped him in the rectory of a Plainfield church that year.

A criminal investigation at the time quickly went dormant. The investigation was reopened after NJ Advance Media highlighted the victim’s case in a lengthy report in July 2015.

Weeks later, Gallo Espinoza admitted in a telephone interview and in email exchanges with a reporter that he carried out the attack, calling it a “mistake” and blaming his victim for enticing him.

Gallo Espinoza remains at large. He is believed to be living in the area of Guayaquil, Ecuador.

In a statement late Wednesday afternoon, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office said a grand jury had indicted Gallo Espinoza on two counts of second-degree sexual assault and two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the second-degree counts.


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