ALBUQUERQUE — A former Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe who was arrested in Morocco a year ago on a U.S. warrant has been returned to New Mexico to face seven counts accusing him of sexually abusing a child at Santa Fe National Cemetery and Kirtland Air Force Base in the early 1990s.
Arthur Perrault, 80, pleaded not guilty during a hearing Friday in U.S. Magistrate Karen Molzen’s courtroom in Albuquerque, an FBI official confirmed. A second hearing in the case is scheduled at 10 a.m. Tuesday to determine if Perrault should be detained until his trial on the charges.
A federal grand jury indictment — dated Sept. 21, 2017, and unsealed Friday morning — says Perrault, a former pastor in Albuquerque parishes and a former Air Force chaplain at Kirtland, is charged with six counts of aggravated sexual abuse and one count of abusive sexual contact with a minor under 12.
The indictment alleges Perrault repeatedly sexually abused the child in 1991 and 1992 while on “federally protected land.”
Five of the counts allege offenses at Kirtland and two reference incidents at the national cemetery. The child’s name does not appear in the indictment. Federal officials have not publicly named the victim or released the victim’s gender or age at the time of the alleged abuse.
Perrault faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if he is convicted on the aggravated sexual abuse charges and a 10-year maximum sentence on the count of abusive sexual contact, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney John Anderson.
Perrault was ordered by a state District Court judge in 2017 to pay $16 million in damages to Kenneth Wolter in a civil case alleging he had sexually abused Wolter dozens of times beginning in 1991, when Wolter was a 10-year-old boy.
Wolter, now in his mid-30s, said in his 2014 lawsuit that Perrault had abused him at Kirtland and at the St. Bernadette parish in Albuquerque, about five miles from the Air Force base, when he served as an altar boy.
Perrault failed to appear at a Jan. 11, 2017, hearing to defend himself in the civil case.
He had vanished from the St. Bernadette parish in September 1992 and was believed to be living in Morocco at the time of the state court hearing last year.
According to federal officials, Perrault was arrested by Moroccan authorities Oct. 12.
When he initially fled St. Bernadette, Perrault went to Canada, officials said. He then went to Morocco, where he worked at an English-language school for children.
The U.S. and Morocco do not have an extradition treaty, FBI Special Agent in Charge James C. Langenberg said at a news conference Friday in Albuquerque, but the country has domestic laws allowing it to work with other authorities.
Langenberg said he had no information on whether Perrault is suspected of committing any crimes in Morocco.
“This case is not over,” he said, adding the FBI is seeking information on other people who might have been victims of abuse by Perrault when they were children.
The FBI was involved in the case, Langenberg said, because Perrault is accused of committing crimes on federal property. If information on other possible crimes by Perrault emerges while the federal case proceeds through the court system, local authorities will be notified, he said.
The agency is asking anyone with information on possible abuse by Perrault to email the U.S Attorney’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the FBI’s Albuquerque office at 800-CALL-FBI.
“The FBI will run a case to the ground,” Langenberg said, adding it took a lot of perseverance to bring Perrault back to the U.S.
Anderson said he could not comment on whether there are other suspects in the Perrault case.
Wolter’s complaint said that by the early 1990s, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe was aware that Perrault had abused several boys.
His attorney, Brad Hall, filed a suit against the archdiocese in 2016 alleging another man was abused by Perrault at a different Albuquerque parish when he was a child in the late 1970s. That complaint, alleging abuse from 1975-77 at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, also says church officials were aware of Perrault’s abuse.
According to the Associated Press, a New Mexico judge released church records last year showing Perrault is accused in state lawsuits of sexually abusing at least 38 boys.
In 1965, when Perrault was a priest in Connecticut, church officials there accused him of sexual misconduct and sent him to the now-shuttered Servants of the Paraclete, a former treatment facility in Jemez Springs for Catholic priests, the 2016 complaint says.
Church officials later recommended he receive a permanent assignment in New Mexico, preferably at a school, according to the suit.
The former priest, who served parishes in New Mexico from 1973 to 1992, taught ethics classes at St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque for a time.
Hall, who has represented more than 100 victims alleging Catholic clergy abuse in New Mexico, praised the federal indictment and Perrault’s extradition.
“This is a great day for survivors of clergy abuse everywhere,” the attorney said in a statement.