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Could Federal Grand Jury Subpoena Signal RICO Investigation for Catholic Diocese of Buffalo?

Attorney Barry N. Covert was interviewed by WKBW’s I-Team Chief Investigator Charlie Specht for a story that 7 Eyewitness News introduced as a “big development in the clergy sex abuse crisis”.

The 7 Eyewitness News story addresses an article recently published in The Buffalo News, which reported that subpoenas were issued in March 2019 as part of an investigation involving clergy sex abuse in the Diocese of Buffalo.

In this interview with WKBW, Barry Covert provides insight and analysis regarding: why the latest subpoenas carry unique significance; what the subpoenas reveal about laws that federal prosecutors may be using in this investigation; and where the focus of the investigation may be directed.

Continue reading for details on Barry Covert’s comments or click in the video below to watch 7 Eyewitness News’ full story.  You will also find the full story on WKBW’s website.

Subpoena Reveals Federal Grand Jury Investigation

7 Eyewitness News states that the March 2019 subpoenas reported by The Buffalo News are the third round of subpoenas issued to the Diocese of Buffalo.  Attorney Barry Covert pointed out to WKBW’s Charlie Specht that the latest subpoenas differ from the first two rounds issued by federal prosecutors. This latest round of subpoenas provide the first confirmation of a federal grand jury investigation.

Covert stated “It’s very significant because that means they have taken this investigation to the next level. Now we know that there is a federal grand jury that is specifically tasked with looking at these claims, these allegations”

RICO Law

7 Eyewitness News’ story also addresses the potential that federal prosecutors may be looking to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act to investigate cover-up of sexual abuse in Buffalo and other catholic diocese. The RICO Act was passed by Congress in 1970 and the law is used to prosecute patterns of offenses committed by members of an “enterprise”.

Barry Covert stated “We think that they could be looking at RICO.”  Discussing the potential use of the RICO Law in this investigation, Covert continued by saying “The obstruction of justice, which is a predict act. Moving priests around. Did they destroy any records?  Did they withhold any records?  Were there any incorrect, untruthful communications to law enforcement?  And fraud is also a predicate act.”

Focus of Federal Investigation on Clergy Sex Abuse

7 Eyewitness News reports that many of the cases that involve sexual abuse perpetrated by priests from the Diocese of Buffalo are too old to be prosecuted criminally.  However, the story continues by stating that a racketeering investigation could focus on a wider conspiracy involving church higher-ups involved in concealing the abuse.
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Federal Subpoena Issued for Buffalo Diocese’s Compensation Program for Victims of Clergy Sex Abuse

The Buffalo News is reporting that a federal grand jury has issued a subpoena as part of an investigation involving clergy sex abuse in the Diocese of Buffalo.

The subpoena was served on two retired judges, former state Surrogate’s Court Judge Barbara Howe and former Appellate Division Justice Jerome Gorski, for records they reviewed as part of a compensation program established by the Buffalo Diocese for victims of clergy abuse.

Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program

The Diocese of Buffalo created the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) on March 1, 2018. The IRCP was one of many compensation programs established by catholic dioceses throughout New York State for victims of clergy sex abuse.

The Buffalo Diocese hired Judge Howe and Justice Gorski to serve as administrators of the IRCP. As administrators, Howe and Gorski reviewed the cases of abuse victims who applied to the IRCP. The administrators then decided whether to reject or accept an applicant’s claim and determined the amount of an award for applicants who were offered settlements.

Attorneys for Sexual Abuse Victims Notified

Lawyers representing sex abuse victims who applied to the IRCP were notified that a subpoena had been served for files related to their client’s case.

Barry N. Covert, who represents over 40 survivors of childhood sexual abuse, was one of the lawyers notified that a subpoena had been served to the IRCP administrators for records related to one of his clients.
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Proposed Child Abuse Reporting Expansion (CARE) Act Would Require Clergy to Report Child Abuse in New York State

New York State Assemblywoman Monica Wallace was joined by attorney Barry N. Covert and law professor Christine Bartholomew to introduce the Child Abuse Reporting Expansion (CARE) Act. The proposed law would require all members of the clergy, including Catholic Priests, to report child abuse in New York State.

Under New York State law, an extensive list of professionals are on a “mandatory reporters” list, which requires individuals in those professions to report any suspected cases of child abuse to the proper authorities. Clergy are not included on this list of mandatory reporters. In addition, New York State’s current law includes a “clergy privilege”, which exempts clergy from reporting anything they hear in the course of a confession.

The CARE Act would add clergy to the mandatory reporters list and allow the “clergy privilege” exemption to stay in place for all cases except in any matters involving child abuse.

As a follow-up to the Child Victims Act, the CARE at seeks to close loopholes that still exist in New York State law, which might protect abusers and keep victims of child abuse at risk.
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