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Prosecutor Links Long Island New Criminal Activity To Priest Who Plead Guilty To Abuse Charges

Jan 14, 2003 | AP A Long Island priest awaiting sentencing for the sexual abuse of a teenage boy is suspected of "engaging in criminal activity" over the weekend and was jailed Monday after the judge raised his bail to $1 million cash.

Assistant District Attorney Emily Constant declined to say what criminal activity the Rev. Michael Hands may have engaged in; no new charges have been filed. Constant said only that Hands had voluntarily turned over his laptop computer and that the Suffolk County Police Department's computer crime section was going over it.

Suffolk County Criminal Court Judge Stephen Braslow denied a prosecution request to revoke Hands' bail. Instead, Braslow increased the priest's bail from $25,000 to $1 million cash - a figure that defense attorney Peter Rubin conceded Hands could not meet.

Braslow granted Rubin's request that his client be placed under a suicide watch while held in the Suffolk County jail.

Rubin would not elaborate on the suspected criminal activity except to say he believes it "has nothing to do with communicating with underage youth."

Following the court hearing, Constant confirmed that Hands has been cooperating with the district attorney's office in its ongoing investigation of alleged sexual abuse at the Diocese of Rockville Centre, its priests and its parishes. He has already testified before a grand jury looking into how the diocese leadership has handled allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the diocese, which represents close to 1.5 million Catholics in 134 parishes on Long Island.

"Nothing indicates any information was not credible and has been corroborated," Constant said of Hands' testimony in the wider probe.

Hands, 36, pleaded guilty in March to having sex with a teenage boy in his rectory and was to be sentenced Wednesday in Nassau County on sodomy and endangerment charges. That sentencing has been postponed a number of times since Hands entered the guilty plea as he has cooperated with authorities in neighboring Suffolk County.

He faces a seven-count indictment in Suffolk County involving the same 14-year-old victim on charges of sodomy, sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child, said Constant. The alleged sexual liaison with the boy began while Hands was assigned to a church in Northport in Suffolk and continued after Hands was transferred to the St. Raphael Rectory in East Meadow in Nassau, prosecutors said.

Last month, Hands claimed in a deposition for a separate civil lawsuit that he was also victimized by a priest while he was a teenager. Hands also alleged in a sworn statement that a diocesan official, Msgr. Francis Caldwell, asked him to remain silent about the alleged abuser, Msgr. Charles Ribaudo.

Hands alleged that Ribaudo had "inappropriate sexual contact" with him on numerous occasions when he was a student and Ribaudo was a teacher at Holy Trinity High School.

The Long Island Catholic, the official newspaper of the diocese, denied that Caldwell had tried to silence Hands. Ribaudo, who retired in March 2002 citing health problems, has denied the allegations.

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