Bail Set At $50,000 For Priest Facing Child Porn Charge

CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago Catholic priest accused of possession of child pornography appeared in bond court Wednesday.

The Rev. Octavio Munoz, 40, is charged with one felony count for possessing two videos depicting boys in sex acts, but the investigation is ongoing and police are still sorting through hundreds of DVDs and VHS tapes “that appear to depict minors in sexual penetration,” Assistant State’s Attorney Guy Lisuzzo said at the bond hearing.

Lisuzzo said investigators also found “emails containing stories of sex with children” on electronic devices owned by Munoz, as well as “undergarments of a size intended for children.”

Cook County Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil set bail at $50,000. If convicted, Munoz faces a possible sentence of three to seven years.

Munoz was director of Casa Jesus, at 750 N. Wabash, a Chicago Archdiocese program that recruited potential Spanish-speaking candidates for the priesthood locally, as well as internationally, to train for the vocation in Chicago. Munoz, an alumni of the program who became co-director in July 2008 and director in February 2009, left Casa Jesus in July of last year to become pastor of St. Pancratius, 4025 S. Sacramento, in the Brighton Park neighborhood.

Munoz’s alleged misdeeds apparently came to light when, on July 7, a Casa Jesus employee went to show Munoz’s successor his new living quarters.

The employee knocked, but after receiving no answer, used a master key to open the door to Munoz’s apartment — which normally no one was allowed to enter, even cleaning staff, Lisuzzo said.

Inside, amid a slew of boxes, the pair stumbled upon a reclining chair with a TV tray that held an open Sony laptop computer that appeared to be playing a webcam video of “a young boy with no pubic hair masturbating,” Lisuzzo said.

The two left the apartment, and the employee did not notify officials from the archdiocese until a week later, when he learned that Munoz’s successor, who also had seen the laptop, had not done so, Lisuzzo said.

Instead of notifying the Chicago Police Department, archdiocese officials on July 20 hired private investigators to look into the matter, Lisuzzo said.

The investigators went to the apartment but found it empty. But in a storage area used exclusively by Munoz, they found a bag for a Sony laptop.

The investigators then reached out to Munoz at St. Pancratius and requested he turn over his computers. Munoz admitted previously owning the specific Sony laptop investigators sought, but told them “he no longer owned the computer” before handing over additional electronic devices, Lisuzzo said.

Private analysis of the devices did not find the video that sparked the investigation, but did uncover emails “that contained stories of child erotica” and evidence that pointed them to other devices and drives. Investigators returned to Munoz’s residence to recover more devices, Lisuzzo said.

Further investigation uncovered a video that appeared to show two boys having sex, at which point, the private investigators called the Chicago Police Department, Lisuzzo said.

Police and members of the Cook County executed search warrants and uncovered the DVDs and VHS tapes; magazines containing images of minors; and “undergarments of a size intended for children,” Lisuzzo said. They also found commercial DVDs purported to contain sex educational material, Lisuzzo said.

During the investigation, Munoz was moved by the Archdiocese to a location for “Archdiocesan evaluation and business.”

“The Chicago Police Department was not notified of that location,” he said.

A warrant for his arrest was issued August 29. Munoz was arrested shortly there after and did not fight his extradition to Chicago, which happened Tuesday, the same day he was arrested.

The Archdiocese issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon: We learned today that [Munoz] has been charged with one felony count of possession of child pornography. The charge comes in connection with a police investigation that began after the archdiocese reported that inappropriate material had been found on a computer in his possession. On July 28, 2015, Archbishop Blase J. Cupich removed Father Muñoz from ministry and withdrew his faculties, his authority to minister, after the archdiocese learned that the inappropriate material might involve minors. Given the nature of that material, the archdiocese reported it promptly to the civil authorities and have cooperated fully with their investigation.”

Munoz was removed from ministry by Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich on July 27, 2015 after “material” was found on his computer, according to a statement posted to the archdiocese website. After the material was discovered, Munoz was reported to civil authorities, the statement added.

Judge Kuriakos Ciesil said that even if Munoz was able to post bail, he would require electronic monitoring and would not be released without first surrendering his passport.

She explained her decision, in part, by pointing out that he left the state to go to Maryland for treatment during the investigation.

“Isn’t there counseling here in Illinois he could have been afforded?” she asked.

If he is released, he would not be allowed access to the internet or to contact any of victims, witnesses or anyone under 18.

Attorney Raymond Wigell, who has represented Munoz since June, taking over from a previous attorney who died, said Munoz is not a wealthy person. “He never made that much money. He indicated to me that he had about $2,000 available in his personal funds.”

Wigell confirmed Munoz was being treated at St. Luke Institute in in Maryland, a Catholic facility that specializes in treating clergy for an array of problems, including “sexual issues,” according to its website.

Wigell, however, denied the treatment was for sexual issues.

Wigell, who said he was hired by Munoz, not the archdiocese, also questioned why his client was arrested.

“There was no reason for the arrest,” he said.

Munoz was “clearly ready to surrender the entire time . . . and we made everybody aware of that,” he said.

Wigell emphasized that his client was charged for possessing two videos that “perhaps” someone else had access to. He said the hundreds of additional pornographic videos amount to “insinuation.”

After the hearing, when asked if any of the child victims depicted in the pornography had been identified, Lisuzzo declined to comment.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2016. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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