A former attorney for a prominent church was sentenced Monday to six months of home confinement for destroying the ex-music director’s laptop computer containing child pornography.
The music director, Robert Tate, was convicted of possessing child pornography, but prosecutors and a judge disclosed Monday that Tate had a long history of sexually abusing children.
“I have never, ever seen such an extensive history of child abuse as exhibited by Mr. Tate,” said U.S. District Court Judge Alan H. Nevas, who handled the case of former Waterbury, Conn., Mayor Philip Giordano, convicted of molesting two girls. “It turns your stomach.”
Tate brought child prostitutes from New York to the church in Greenwich, Conn., Nevas said. Prosecutor Peter Jongbloed said Tate sexually abused children in New York City, the Philippines and Thailand.
“Mr. Tate had years of sexually abusing children,” Jongbloed said.
Nevas sentenced attorney Philip Russell to six months of home confinement, a $25,000 fine and 240 hours of community service. He said he was “deeply offended” by what Russell did, but also cited his years of good service in sparing him prison.
“I’m very relieved and very happy this case is behind me,” Russell said outside court.
Russell, who apologized in court, has voluntarily agreed to have his law license suspended and will likely be disbarred, his attorneys said. Russell’s attorneys have said Russell’s wife and daughter attended the church, which had been very helpful to his wife when she was ill, and Russell wanted to avoid a church scandal.
Jongbloed would not comment on why Tate did not face charges beyond possessing child pornography, but said that issue would be addressed when Tate is sentenced Jan. 31. The uncharged allegations are contained in a presentencing report that is not public.
“It’s possible that the events were either too remote in time or the victims could not be identified,” said Russell’s attorney, Roy Ward.
Tate’s attorney, Francis O’Reilly, declined comment on the newly disclosed allegations.
Prosecutors said neither Russell nor the church knew about allegations that Tate was sexually abusing children.
An employee at Christ Church in Greenwich discovered images of naked boys while using Tate’s computer, according to Russell’s indictment. A day later, church officials sealed and wrapped Tate’s laptop, treating it as evidence. Russell admitted he took the laptop and destroyed it and did not report the crime to authorities.
Russell pleaded guilty in September to one count of misprision of a felony, which means he had knowledge of a felony but didn’t report it. He had faced up to 14 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
Former President George H.W. Bush attended the church while growing up and funeral services for his parents were held there.
Russell acknowledged he destroyed the computer, but denied he obstructed an investigation.
Jongbloed said Russell’s failure to report the crime delayed a search of Tate’s apartment, allowing Tate to remove his collection of child pornography. He also said Tate kept a detailed diary, but a portion from 1997 on was missing and may have been on the computer Russell destroyed.
Russell’s attorneys had asked that he be spared prison time, calling it an impulsive act in an otherwise law-abiding career.
Prosecutors did not recommend a sentence for Russell, but they did provide new details of allegations against Tate on Monday to demonstrate the seriousness of the case.
Tate, who oversaw the church’s renowned choir programs, worked with about 2,000 children in Greenwich during his 34-year career, Jongbloed said.
Nevas also criticized church officials, saying they should have asked more questions about where Russell was taking the computer and what responsibilities they had in the matter.
“They wanted this whole thing to go away,” Nevas said.
Eugene Riccio, the church’s current attorney, said church officials had no knowledge of Tate’s criminal activities and followed Russell’s advice on how to handle the matter.
“Had the church been advised by Mr. Russell that the authorities should have been notified, they would have been notified” Riccio said. “The church is doing the best it can to recover and move in a positive direction.”
Franklin Bloomer, whose two daughters were in the church choir, said they had positive experiences with Tate.
“I’m stunned to learn about it,” Bloomer said. “My perception of Bob Tate is he is fundamentally a good man who has done a lot of good in his life.”
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