By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A Niagara Falls man with a long criminal record has been sentenced to 18 months in jail after admitting to extorting $90,000 from a Catholic priest after threatening to falsely accuse him of committing sexual abuse.
The Standard is reporting that Robert Sammut, 46, of Niagara Falls, Ontario, preyed upon a priest’s fear of being falsely accused to extort him out of thousands of dollars. The priest, whose identity is not being revealed, said Sammut initially approached him for cash to help support his children and to repay people who were threatening to hurt him if he didn’t pay them back. After giving him $30, Sammut kept returning to ask for money and eventually began to threaten the priest by saying he would go to the media and police to report that he was a sexual predator if he didn’t continue to give him cash.
Because such an accusation, whether true or false, instantly ruins the reputation and standing of Catholic clergy, the priest made dozens of payments of $150 to $200 over the course of several months.
“In order to compel the priest’s generosity, he threatened the priest to come forward with false charges,” said Judge Joseph Nadel of St. Catharine’s court. “Given the glut of fallen priests who have fallen prey to these venal acts, this priest feared he would be painted with their brush.”
It was not until Sammut had exhausted the priest’s personal savings, maxed out his credit cards and forced the priest to borrow money from friends and the Church that the priest finally went to authorities and reported the problem.
According to The Standard, Assistant Crown attorney Graeme Leach said the priest remains embarrassed and traumatized by the crime. Being of “modest means,” he will not be able to repay the money he borrowed which will result in an “ongoing victimization of the priest,” Leach said.
Sammut’s defense counsel, John Bothwell, recommended a lighter sentence for his client who has been addicted to cocaine for more than 25 years and has 30 prior convictions on his record. Bothwell claimed Sammut deserves one last chance to clean himself up because he has been improving and has apologized for his actions.
Judge Nadel wasn’t moved and settled on what he called a “very modest sentence” only because there was little hard evidence against Sammut, such as witnesses or wiretap evidence. However, he made it known that he would have preferred to sentence Sammut for a much lengthier period.
Under conditions of anonymity, one active priest in good standing located in the province of Alberta, told LifeSiteNews that he could relate to the fears of the extorted priest. “When you are accused, it’s going to change your life right away, whether the accusations are true or false,” said the priest. “I feel that in some ways, a priest is not really protected from false sexual abuse accusations. The policies in place are insufficient. There is no guaranteed support for priests.”
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