Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ex-Priest Arrested On Long Island Sex Charges

MINEOLA, N.Y. -- A former priest previously convicted of molesting a teenager was arraigned Wednesday on charges he tried to have sex with someone he thought was a 14-year-old boy, police said.

Thomas J. Bender, 72, of Macungie, Pa., faces five charges of attempting to disseminate indecent material to a minor and one count of attempted criminal sexual act.

He did not immediately enter a plea at his arraignment in First District Court in Hempstead, where he was ordered held on $120,000 bail. He was represented by an attorney for Legal Aid, which does not comment on pending cases.

Bender, who served as pastor at Most Blessed Sacrament in Bally, Pa., was sentenced to seven years probation in 1988 for molesting a teenage boy in the 1980s.

Nassau County prosecutors say Bender was engaged in several online conversations with someone he believed was a 14-year-old boy from Long Island but who turned out to be a detective posing as a teenager.

On Tuesday, Bender allegedly tried to meet the boy at an undisclosed location with the intention of taking him to a motel for sex. When the ex-priest arrived at the location, he was arrested by detectives.

When he was arrested, Bender was carrying condoms, beer, pornography, a digital camera, candy, gum, toothpaste, KY Jelly, a jar filled with what police believe is lubrication and a laptop, Detective Sgt. Lucy Graziano said at a press conference Wednesday.

She said Bender engaged in "grooming" his prospective victim, nurturing him and building a relationship, before the messages turned sexual.

"We believe all of these conversations were for the defendant to meet with ... the 14-year-old boy," Graziano said.

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