Saginaw County Catholic priest Robert Deland arraigned on multiple sex charges

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SAGINAW COUNTY (WJRT) - (2/26/2018) - The Rev. Robert Deland, a priest with the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, was arraigned multiple sex charges Monday after a lengthy police investigation.

The Rev. Robert DeLand appears for arraignment in a Saginaw County courtroom.

Police from Saginaw Township had been investigating 71-year-old Deland since August 2017, when a 21-year-old man filed a report alleging that Deland committed a sexual assault in his condominium on Mallard Cove.

"It did go further than what the victim ever thought it would go and the victim was able to leave," said Saginaw Township Police Chief Don Pussehl.

A 17-year-old victim came forward in November of 2017. He contacted the Tittabawassee Township Police Department.

"In both cases, none of the sexual activity was consensual," said Mark Gaertner, a Saginaw County assistant prosecutor.

The complaints allege the priest engaged in gross indecency, sexually assault, furnished alcohol to minors and purchased the drug Ecstasy.

Deland appeared in a Saginaw County courtroom Monday afternoon for arraignment but chose to waive his right to hear the charges. Criminal complaints show he is facing three felony charges:

-- Second-degree criminal sexual conduct with personal injury, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
-- Gross indecency with a male victim, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
--Attempt to commit crime (criminal sexual conduct), which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Deland didn't say much in court, except to ask the judge one question. "When will I find out the names of them," Deland asked.

Deland was released after his court hearing on an electronic tether. The judge prohibited him from having contact with anyone age 21 or younger as part of the conditions of his bond.

At a news conference after the court appearance we learned the 17-year-old victim actually helped police with an undercover operation, leading to Deland's arrest.

"Very, very brave individual, this young man. And it was very traumatic on him," said Det. Brian Berg with the Tittabawassee Township Police Department.

The teen was assigned to work with Father Deland after being involved in another case that deeply impacted the Freeland community.

"For an incident that occured last year, Michael Dennis suicide. He was court ordered to do this service through Father Deland," Berg said.

"His parents were very concerned that he was grooming their son and touching him inappropriately, and a buying things for him, and spending a tremendous amount of time wtih him," Berg said.

Berg and Gaertner said Deland appeared to be "grooming" the two young men.

"To befriend the victim, to prey on the victim's weaknesses, and to lure the victim to the residence on Mallard Cove," Gaertner said.

At the news conference we also learned detectives from both departments and the Michigan State Police had been conducting surveillance on Deland since November 2017. Police executed several search warrants during the investigation at his home on Mallard Cove, at St. Agnes Parish in Tittabawassee Township, and the church rectory. He lived at both the rectory and the condo.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, the Saginaw Diocese said Deland has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

The diocese said it learned of DeLand's arrest from local media reports earlier in the day and it had no knowledge of the months-long police investigation.

“I am deeply distressed by this most serious situation,” said the Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, bishop of Saginaw. “Clearly, the diocese will cooperate fully with law enforcement and their investigation. I ask that you keep in your prayers Father DeLand and anyone who has brought forward allegations against him.”

Along with his work at St. Agnes Parish, Deland served as a judicial vicar for the diocese.

"My heartfelt prayers and support go out to the St. Agnes Parish family and the entire Freeland community," Cistone said.

As a result of his arrest, Deland has been banned from stepping foot on Freeland Community Schools property and CAN Council Great Lakes Bay Region facilities, where he was a board member.

Matt Cairy, superintendent of Freeland Community Schools, issued the following statement:

"Father Bob DeLand is not allowed on school grounds due to investigations into criminal complaints that we have been made aware of. It is in the best interest and safety of the Freeland Community School District's staff and students to keep this individual off of school property."

Police and prosecutors said the two victims will likely not be alone.

Since news broke about Deland's arrest the Tittabawassee Township Police Department's phone has been busy. "From individuals alleging similar acts over the last 30 years," Berg said.

"We do not want any silent victims to be out there and to think that there's nothing that can be done for them. We want to hear from them," Gaertner said.

Police said you can call any police department in the area to report any possible misconduct.

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