Ex-principal gets 3-6 years for theft

Philadelphia Inquirer/May 22, 2009

He was principal of their son's high school and the priest they believed tried to help their troubled teenager. He heard their confessions, administered Holy Communion, ate dinner with them, and blessed their new house.

But in a Philadelphia courtroom yesterday, Arthur Baselice Jr. and his wife, Elaine, could barely contain their rage and contempt for the Rev. Charles Newman.

The couple railed at the man who in March pleaded guilty to stealing almost $1 million from Archbishop Ryan High School in 2002 and 2003, when he was the school's president and had personal access to archdiocesan funds.

About $54,000 of that stolen cash went to the Baselices' son, Arthur III. Prosecutors called the payout "hush money" to keep him quiet about a sexual relationship the two had.

Speaking before Newman, 58, was sentenced to three to six years in prison, Elaine Baselice told Common Pleas Court Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi that Newman seduced her son with money for drugs and alcohol.

Her son's addiction and the depression seeded by the sexual relationship with Newman, she said, led to his Nov. 30, 2006, death by overdose in a Camden drug house at age 28.

"Newman had me believing that my son was full of demons," Elaine Baselice told the judge. "Today, standing in this courtroom, I am face to face with the real demon."

Her husband called Newman the "ambassador of the devil."

Voice trembling, with a photograph of his son on the table before him, Arthur Baselice glared at the paunchy, bespectacled man seated about 15 feet away.

"I have tried for quite some time to think of a phrase that adequately describes you," he told the former priest. "Sick, detestable, filthy, and disgusting are inadequate."

Newman stole an occasional sideways glance at the couple but otherwise stared ahead. Only the reddening of his bald head hinted at the impact of the imprecations hurled at him.

Newman was a priest and teacher and then principal for 22 years at the Northeast Philadelphia school, the city's largest Catholic high school. In 2002, he became its president, the top position at the school.

But on Nov. 18, 2003, archdiocesan officials received word of missing money. Two days later, Newman was fired, and within a month the archdiocese had reported the theft and sex abuse allegations to the district attorney.

Yesterday, in a victim-impact statement, Archbishop Ryan's current president, Michael J. McArdle, said Newman's "unlawful and immoral actions have caused irreparable harm."

McArdle said that in 2007, he and the archdiocese's Office for Child and Youth Protection sent tens of thousands of Ryan alumni letters offering assistance to any other victims of abuse by Newman.

Newman, who most recently was living at a home in Wisconsin for retired Franciscan clergy, spoke for about four minutes, in disjointed remarks that did not address the $900,000 he admitted stealing or the sexual relationship with Baselice.

Newman said he was sorry for the "grief of the Baselice family" and then told the court how the younger Baselice called him twice in Wisconsin.

Twice, Newman said, he cut him off, telling him they weren't permitted to speak, but urging the young man to get help.

"I often wonder if I had responded in a different way in those phone calls whether the situation would have turned out differently," Newman added.

But he did not apologize to the Baselices or explain what happened to the money.

The priest was never charged with sex crimes because the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges had expired.

But defense attorney Frank DeSimone did read from a three-page statement by Newman that was filed in court, in which the priest denied supplying Baselice with drugs. In the statement, however, Newman admitted: "Shamefully, I admit that I had one sexual encounter with Arthur."

Newman maintained that the encounter was consensual and Baselice over 18.

In a lawsuit Baselice filed against Newman, however, the young man contended that the sex began when he was a teenager and still in school. That lawsuit was unsuccessful.

Newman's statement also denies that the $54,000 paid to Baselice was to keep him from reporting the sexual relationship. Instead, the statement reads, the money was for Baselice to pay gambling debts that were getting him regular beatings by loan sharks.

Newman's letter also contended that he himself was sexually assaulted in 1998 by some unidentified men behind the Archbishop Ryan building and has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I do not hide behind my PTSD, but realize that it had some deleterious effects," Newman wrote. "I am aware of the extreme wrong of my decisions and actions. I realize that I have no credibility. My guilt is obvious. I have no one to blame."

Assistant District Attorney Charles Gallagher asked the judge to sentence Newman to the maximum: seven to 14 years in prison, followed by six years' probation.

Gallagher said Newman showed no remorse, and his explanations of his conduct "make no sense."

DeSimone urged DeFino-Nastasi not to be swayed by the sexual allegations.

"This is a theft case," DeSimone said, adding that the sexual allegations had never been proved in court "beyond a reasonable doubt."

The judge focused solely on the missing money and Newman's failure to explain what happened to it.

DeFino-Nastasi noted that the investigation showed that 111 checks totaling $552,280 - about half of the checks he signed while president of the school - were made out to "cash."

"Your explanations are sorely lacking . . . and that's putting it mildly," the judge told Newman. "Your explanations are bizarre."

Though DeFino-Nastasi noted that Newman undoubtedly did good during his time as a priest, she added that "that's part of the job description." She said Newman's criminal conduct was motivated solely by "self-gratification."

"This court was not born yesterday," she said. "You're not telling the truth. I don't know that you've admitted to yourself what you've done."

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