Police: Los Banos Catholic priest under investigation for alleged ‘sex crimes’

08/18/2014 5:08 PM

08/18/2014 7:46 PM

A 64-year-old Catholic priest in Los Banos is under investigation for alleged “Internet-related sex crimes” involving at least one teenager, the Los Banos Police Department reported Monday.

The Rev. Robert E. Gamel was placed on administrative leave Thursday pending further investigation, according to a statement from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno. Gamel has been a priest at St. Joseph’s Church since 2009, according to media archives.

Catholic officials in Fresno confirmed Gamel is under investigation in a statement released late Monday. Gamel could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

No arrests have been made and no criminal charges have been filed, police Cmdr. Jason Hedden told the Merced Sun-Star.

“This is a top priority for the department, and we are working closely with diocese officials to ensure the safety of all parishioners,” Police Chief Gary Brizzee said in a statement.

The diocese in Fresno contacted Los Banos police Thursday regarding the allegations, police said.

The Rev. Joe Baca has been appointed interim administrator of the Los Banos parish for an indefinite period of time, police said. Baca couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

Police detectives on Friday served a search warrant at the St. Joseph’s rectory, seizing computer equipment, hard drives and other potential evidence in the case.

“Detectives are continuing to contact individuals potentially involved in this investigation,” Hedden said.

“The forensic analysis involved in these types of cases is extensive. Department of Justice forensic experts will be used to examine and preserve digital evidence associated with this investigation,” Hedden said in the statement.

Police did not release any details regarding the possible victim in the case, other than to say he or she was a teenager. Hedden told the Sun-Star that detectives have not ruled out the possibility there may be other possible victims police have yet to contact.

Hedden told the Sun-Star police are hoping for help from the public in gathering information.

“We’re still doing a lot of interviews to determine exactly what may have happened,” Hedden said in a telephone interview. “If anyone has any information, we’d like to speak with them as soon as possible.”

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact Detective Eduardo Solis or Sgt. Ivan Mendez at (209) 827-7070, ext. 0.

To leave an anonymous crime tip, call (209) 827-7070 Ext. 288. If you have access to a computer and the Internet you can also leave an anonymous tip at the Police Department’s web page. At the bottom of the “Contact” page click on the “report graffiti and other crime” link or call the Merced Area Crime Stoppers at (855) 725-2420, or go to www.mercedareacrimestoppers.org.

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