Margaretville priest arrested; faces 20 counts in sex case
By Brian Sweeney
The pastor at the Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Margaretville was arrested Thursday on 20 counts stemming from his alleged sexual misconduct involving six males aged 11-19.
The Very Rev. James McDevitt voluntarily turned himself in at the Middletown Town Court in Margaretville on Thursday morning where he was charged with six counts of second-degree sexual abuse, seven counts of forcible touching, six counts of endangering the welfare of a child and one count of third-degree sexual abuse.
All of the charges are misdemeanors and carry maximum sentences of a year in jail.
Sheriff’s department officials said that the Rev. McDevitt allegedly had inappropriate contact with the boys over a period of approximately six months. One incident occurred several years ago, investigators said.
He is accused of “disciplining” the boys by having them take down their pants and underwear and spanking their bare bottoms.
Sheriff’s Department officials indicated that most of the alleged incidents took place between last October and mid-April 2009. At least two of the events reportedly occurred about three years ago.
The priest pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was released on $1,000 bail. He is scheduled to reappear on Thursday, Aug. 13 at 10 a.m. George LaMarche III of Troy is the defendant’s attorney.
The charges against Father McDevitt stem from a lengthy investigation by the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department.
Following the execution of the original search warrant, the mother of one of the victims told the News that Father McDevitt showered a group of adolescents with expensive gifts such as bicycles, iPods and other items. She said that once the boys were welcomed as part of “the group,” that the priest would find accuse them of bad behavior and use this an excuse for spanking them.
After investigating several complaints against the priest, Sheriff’s Department personnel obtained and executed a search warrant at the Sacred Heart Parish on June 8. After a search of the rectory, an adjacent garage, the parish center and the church, sheriff’s personnel removed a considerable amount of materials from the premises.
Undersheriff Doug Vredenburgh said that a computer used by Father McDevitt could not be located. Father McDevitt reportedly told investigators that the computer was broken and he had discarded it.
A month of investigation followed and a warrant for Father McDevitt’s arrest was issued on July 9 and resulted in last week’s court appearance.
Father McDevitt was a pastor at the Delhi Catholic Church for a short time and was transferred to the Margaretville parish about five years ago.
He was ordained as a priest 12 years ago. Prior to that, he completed two tours of duty in Vietnam before receiving an MBA in finance.
Father McDevitt then went to work for the Christian Brothers, with stints of employment at LaSalle Academy and LaSalle Institute in Tory and Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse and Albany.
He reportedly held several positions at these schools, including teaching middle school and high school. He also worked as a guidance counselor and principal.
Father McDevitt ultimately decided to join the priesthood and enrolled at the Sacred Heart School of Theology in Wisconsin.
Contacted this week by the News, Albany Diocese communications director Ken Goldfarb offered the following comments on the case.
“When the Albany Diocese first became aware of this matter about a month ago, Father James McDevitt voluntarily requested and was granted administrative leave from ministry. That leave will continue pending the disposition of the charges that have now been filed against him. Father McDevitt is not permitted to celebrate Mass or other sacraments or to engage in any other public activities as a priest,” He stated.
“It is our understanding that Father McDevitt has denied these charges. In his tenure as a priest of the Albany Diocese we have not received any previous complaints of this nature,” Mr. Goldfarb added.