A former Catholic priest who was an Air Force Reserve chaplain has been extradited from Morocco to New Mexico to face seven counts of child sexual abuse.
Arthur Perrault, 80, who has been a fugitive for 26 years, is accused of seven incidents involving a young boy, under age 12, in 1991 and 1992, including some that allegedly happened on Kirtland Air Force Base, at the base chapel and other locations. At least some other incidents reportedly happened at Santa Fe National Cemetery, also federal property.
Information was not available about whether the victim was a military child.
According to other court documents, Perrault allegedly abused numerous other children over a period of more than 20 years as a Catholic priest in New Mexico and Rhode Island, and fled the U.S. in 1992 when allegations of his conduct became public.
FBI agents took custody of Perrault in Morocco on Thursday. The charges against him were revealed Friday in a newly unsealed indictment, which had been handed down by a federal grand jury exactly a year ago, Sept. 21, 2017. The indictment specified seven incidents involving the victim.
According to a report in the Albuquerque Journal, Perrault appeared in court Friday afternoon and pleaded not guilty through his attorney. The judge ordered him held in custody until a detention hearing next week.
Perrault was a colonel in the Air Force Reserve Chaplain Corps, said Linda Card, spokeswoman for Air Force Office of Special Investigations, which assisted the FBI Albuquerque Division, and the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico. Moroccan officials also assisted.
Information was not immediately available about how long Perrault served as a Reserve chaplain, Card said, and he likely was brought into the Air Force Reserve at a higher rank. Air Force OSI was involved not because he was a reservist, but because the alleged incidents were reported to have happened on Air Force property.
FBI officials are encouraging anyone who has information about other conduct by Perrault to email the U.S. Attorney’s Office at email@example.com, or call the FBI’s Albuquerque Division at 1-800-CALL-FBI. (800-225-5324).
The charges are allegations at this point, and officials stress that individuals are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Perrault is charged with six counts of aggravated sexual abuse and one count of abusive sexual contact. If Perrault is convicted of aggravated sexual abuse charges, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. The abusive sexual contact charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
“The indictment alleges a profound breach of trust by an individual who was widely perceived as a mentor to young people and a respected figure in the community,” said John C. Anderson, U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico, in an announcement. “Although the indictment charges acts allegedly committed many years ago, this indictment should make clear that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will pursue justice for victims despite the passage of time or the many miles this defendant sought to put between himself and these alleged offenses.”
The investigation into Perrault is part of Project Safe Childhood, an initiative launched in 2006 by the Justice Department to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse.