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A former Roman Catholic priest who fled the United States in the 1990s has been sentenced to 30 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of sexually abusing an altar boy at a veterans' cemetery and military base. He was located in Morocco, where he was arrested in 2017 following his indictment on the sex charges, and was extradited to New Mexico.
The 81-year-old Arthur Perrault was convicted by a federal jury in April on six counts of aggravated sexual abuse and one count of abusive sexual contact with a minor in 1991 and 1992 at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, prosecutors said. Perrault is among more than 70 clergy members identified by the Santa Fe Archdiocese as credibly accused of abusing children in New Mexico.
The victim, now an adult, testified that Perrault befriended him when he was 9 years old, showering him with gifts and trips before sexually assaulting him, prosecutors said.
At his trial, seven other alleged victims testified that Perrault, ordained in 1964, abused them during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. At one point, the judge demanded that Arthur Perrault look a woman in the eyes as she testified about being abused by him. Elaine Montoya said her first kiss came from Perrault at the start of a two-year sexual relationship. "He had convinced me that it was normal ... a gift from God," she told the court.
Charles Starzynski said his first sexual experience was with Perrault instead of any of the girls he liked. He called the former priest a con man concerned only with his image of sophistication. "You're just a jerk," he said.
Perrault pleaded not guilty after he was returned to the US from Morocco in 2017 and maintained his innocence at the sentencing. His defense team plans to file an appeal.
In ordering the sentence, US District Judge in New Mexico, Martha Vazquez, said it was the worst case of child sex abuse she has handled over the course of 26 years. "You chose as a profession the life of being a priest. It was supposed to be your job to help, not destroy," the judge said.
"It is a long sentence but certainly a fitting one given the length of his conduct and devastating impact," US Attorney John Anderson said.