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U.S. Attorney: Clergy Accused Of Sexual Abuse Could Face Consequences Under Civil RICO Statute

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The grand jury report sent shockwaves through the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese with revelations that 50 priests and religious leaders allegedly sexually abused hundreds of child victims.

But because of the statute of limitations, no criminal charges were filed.

"It leaves people with a hollow sense that there is justice that has not been dispensed or justice denied," said U.S. Attorney David Hickton.

But now, Hickton says a federal investigation may go further than state prosecutors in seeking justice.

He tells KDKA that his office may address the findings in the grand jury report with a law that usually applies to criminal organizations, known as RICO, the Racketeering Influence and Corruption Organization Act.

"It would be appropriate in this instance if the evidence supported it," Hickton said.

Because of a similar statute of limitations, it's too late to prosecute anyone criminally under RICO, but Hickton says there is also a civil RICO statute with no time limit, which would carry civil penalties.

"The reason were looking at this is that we have a federal tool here in civil RICO that may put us, and I emphasize 'may,' put us in the position where we could do something," said Hickton.

The grand jury pointed an accusatory finger at two former bishops, the late James Hogan and retired Bishop Joseph Adamec, accusing them of warding off law enforcement while they shuffled predatory priests around the diocese.

The feds also have an ongoing investigation and just convicted former priest Fr. Joseph Maurizio of traveling to Honduras to sexually assault boys.

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Hickton will not say where the current investigation is headed.

"I don't want to speak to what we're specially investigating at this point, but we have been looking at this since before that grand jury report came out and our investigation is ongoing," said Hickton.

Usually, civil trials result in financial awards, but that's not likely in this case. The results could be more akin to a consent decree, a mandated plan of action to prevent future abuse.

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