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Federal subpoena seeks records from Buffalo Diocese's clergy abuse compensation program

Federal authorities have sought more records as they investigate the handling of clergy sex abuse cases in the Buffalo Diocese.

Two retired judges who are overseeing a diocese program to compensate abuse victims were served in March with a federal grand jury subpoena for records they reviewed to determine who should be paid and how much they should get.

The law firm of Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP — where one of the retired judges is senior counsel — mentioned the subpoena to at least three lawyers of people who applied to the diocese's Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.

The two IRCP administrators, former state Surrogate’s Court Judge Barbara Howe and former Appellate Division Justice Jerome C. Gorski, declined to comment on the subpoena.

“It would be totally improper for us as IRCP administrators to speak with anyone about any subpoenas issued or other confidential inquiries made to us by any law enforcement officials,” the former judges said in an email.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of New York would not confirm or deny the subpoena.

But three people told The News that Brian D. Gwitt, a partner and general counsel at Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP, called lawyers as a professional courtesy to let them know that a subpoena had been served on his office seeking records related to their clients. Gwitt declined to comment.

Lawyer Barry N. Covert said Gwitt contacted him on March 7 to tell him that a subpoena sought records related to one of Covert’s clients, Stephanie McIntyre, and for six other people who applied to the diocese’s compensation program.

McIntyre, 50, alleged that the Rev. Fabian J. Maryanski repeatedly sexually abused her when she was a teenager in the 1980s. She agreed in December to accept a $400,000 offer from the diocese in exchange for signing away her right to sue over the alleged abuse.

The subpoena was for “everything that the judges reviewed in determining the claim,” Covert said in recollecting what Gwitt told him. Gwitt also said that the IRCP administrators were complying with the subpoena, according to Covert. A response to the subpoena was due March 29.

Gwitt contacted attorney James VanDette on March 7, as well, to advise that a subpoena sought records related to VanDette’s client, Harry King.

King, who alleged that the Rev. Donald Becker raped him when he was 13, accepted a $140,000 compensation offer. But King, 55, has been highly critical of the diocese’s handling of abuse cases and of the IRCP process. He said he continues to be puzzled by how the administrators settled on the amount they did.

“They told me nothing,” he said. “I certainly would like to know that formula.”

Gwitt said he was notifying King's lawyer about the subpoena information to give King an opportunity to respond or object to it, according to an email exchange between the two lawyers.

In an interview with The News, King said he had no objections to federal investigators trying to gather as much information as they can.

Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian said he was told the grand jury sought records related to two of his clients.

Federal investigators already have interviewed several people who've accused priests of abuse and potential witnesses in building a case. It’s not clear what they were hoping to find with the latest subpoena or what impact it will have on their probe.

FBI agents investigating Buffalo clergy abuse claims in federal probe

The downtown chancery office of the Buffalo Diocese was served with a federal subpoena for documents last June, and then again in the fall.

“The diocese continues to cooperate with the requests for documents from the federal investigators,” said Terrence M. Connors, a lawyer for the diocese. He declined to comment further.

The federal probe is ongoing at the same time the state Attorney General's Office is conducting a civil investigation of how eight Catholic dioceses in New York handled sex abuse complaints. Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone has publicly identified 80 priests who have been credibly accused of molesting minors while resisting demands that he resign.

The diocese created the compensation program on March 1, 2018, and hired Howe and Gorski to serve as administrators whose decisions would be binding upon the diocese but could be accepted or rejected by applicants to the program.

According to terms of the program, Howe and Gorski were to consider the extent to which the diocese and a person bringing a claim can document and corroborate the "nature, frequency and time of the alleged sexual abuse." The administrators, in deciding to accept or reject a claim, also were to consider:

  • Whether the allegations of abuse are consistent with those made by other victims.
  • Whether the alleged abuse was reported at the time to church officials, law enforcement, parents, friends or others.
  • Whether there are medical or counseling records relevant to the alleged abuse.

The amount of the awards was to be based on the nature, extent and frequency of the abuse and "aggravating circumstances," such as the age of the victim, the severity of the abuse, the location of the abuse, whether there were threats of physical harm or retaliation and "significant, verifiable and life-altering psychological damage."

Diocese officials have declined to discuss details about the program, such as how many people applied or how much it has paid out in settlements. But The Buffalo News has learned through interviews with abuse victims and attorneys that more than 100 applied to the program and more than 50 settlement offers have been made so far, totaling at least $8 million.

Buffalo Diocese offers more than $8 million to abuse victims

Many victims who applied to the compensation program gave detailed accounts of their abuse and met in person with the former judges.

It’s not clear if the diocese also provided information to the former judges for their deliberations.

Some lawyers said the confidential structure of the IRCP made it difficult to build a credible case for their clients because they weren’t allowed access to any diocese files.

The process was vastly different from civil litigation, where a court can compel both parties to produce documents and testimony. Both sides in litigation also must be made aware of evidence or testimony brought forward by the opposing side.

The latest subpoena would allow investigators to examine documents that childhood victims of abuse provided to the IRCP administrators. It might also give them access to any documents the diocese gave to IRCP administrators, but not to victims’ lawyers, and to correspondence between the administrators and the diocese.

Former prosecutor and Erie County Court Judge Thomas P. “Tim” Franczyk said he was not aware of the latest subpoena and had no direct knowledge of the federal investigation.

But Francyzk, who now teaches a course on evidence at the University at Buffalo Law School, said it suggested that investigators are still in a stage of gathering information.

“It could be just a matter of being as thorough as they can possibly be,” he said.

But Franczyk also said investigators could be using the subpoena as a wedge to get more information from the diocese.

“It could well be to verify that the diocese was fully responsive to the original request,” he said.

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