Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and officers from the San Diego Police Department executed a search warrant last Thursday at the parish office of the St. Charles Church and the St. Charles Borromeo Academy in Point Loma.
No arrests were made or charges filed but officials from the Diocese of San Diego, which oversees the Catholic parish, said agents confiscated files and computers from the parish office. However, they did not know what the files and computers contained and can only speculate about the reason for their seizure. As a result of the raid, the church pastor has taken a leave of absence.
Rodrigo Valdivia, chancellor and director of multicultural affairs for the Diocese of San Diego, said both the diocese and the parish were cooperating with investigators. The agents "indicated that they needed access to the entire parish, including the school, but it was primarily the parish offices," he said. "They removed some evidence that pertains to their investigation. They told us they would keep us informed, but we have not heard from them since Thursday."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials acknowledged that they were the lead agency but would not reveal any information about their investigation or the resulting raid. "The activity is part of an ongoing investigation and therefore ICE is unable to provide any additional details at this time," said spokeswoman Lauren Mack. "The search warrant is sealed so there are no additional details."
Valdivia said agents refused to provide the Diocese with a copy of the search warrant they presented to parish staff. "They did indicate they had [a search warrant].... They showed it to our staff there, but upon our request they denied us a copy of it." He said an inventory of the items confiscated by ICE agents was provided to Diocese lawyers.
The county District Attorney's Office declined to comment, but San Diego Police Sgt. Dave Jones, who supervises the department's Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) taskforce confirmed that two of his officers were present at the raid and are assisting the ICE investigation.
According to the ICAC website, the taskforce is a federally funded program, designed to create "multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency responses to prevent, interdict, investigate and prosecute Internet crimes against children."
Mack said ICE agents were members of the ICAC taskforce but declined to confirm if those agents were involved, how many ICE officers were involved, if any St. Charles Parish employees were the focus of the investigation or if any other search warrants were executed as a result of the investigation.
Mack said she did not know what authority issued or sealed the search warrant, or if federal or state prosecutors are currently pursuing the investigation.
St. Charles Church and its parish offices are on property adjoining the St. Charles Borromeo Academy, a private Catholic school serving children in kindergarten through the eighth grade. A letter mailed to parents last Friday signed by Michael Deely, the principal of St. Charles Borromeo Academy, acknowledged that a search warrant had been executed but gave few other details.
"The warrant did not involve the school or any of its staff. At no time before or during the search was any student, parent or staff member involved," the letter stated. Deely refused to comment on the matter.
According to authorities, the raid occurred at approximately 3 p.m., after students were dismissed. An extended day-care program was in session at the time.
Valdivia said that as a direct result of the raid, Father Gary Holtey, who lives at the parish, decided to take a leave of absence.
"The Pastor has voluntarily accepted a leave, so he has removed himself from the premises. We have also begun to communicate with the parish staff and the rest of the community as to the fact that the pastor has accepted a leave and Diocesan officials will be making arrangements for the activity of the community to continue."
Valdivia said Holtey was assigned to St. Charles Parish about three years ago, after working at Santa Sophia Church in Spring Valley. Valdivia said Holtey had retained legal council but did not know when the pastor would return to work.
"It depends on how the investigation by law enforcement proceeds," he said.