The feds couldn't get gangster Al Capone for murder, so they went after him on tax evasion. The infamous and brutal crime boss did eight years for the lesser charge, emerging from Alcatraz a broken man.
Now, a group of adults who claim they were sexually assaulted as children by the Rev. Jerold Lindner are hoping prosecutors will go after the 68-year-old Los Gatos priest -- the best legal way they can. The deadline to prosecute the cleric for child molestation has long since passed, but Lindner's alleged victims want Santa Clara County prosecutors to file perjury charges against the cleric for allegedly lying in a recent trial under oath.
At District Attorney Jeff Rosen's invitation, two of the advocates are meeting with prosecutors Wednesday afternoon to discuss the explosive issue. Attending the meeting will be defense attorney Pat Harris and his client, Will Lynch, the San Francisco man who admitted beating up Lindner in 2010 at a Jesuit retirement home, but was acquitted in July for the assault by a sympathetic jury.
Lynch says Lindner raped him when he was 7 and also molested his 4-year-old brother at the same time. The Jesuits paid the brothers $187,000 each after legal fees to settle their lawsuit. But Lindner briefly took the stand during Lynch's assault trial and denied the molestation charges before refusing to answer any other questions.
"We are grateful they want to meet with us,'' said Harris, who will fly up from Los Angeles for the sit down with prosecutors. "But we're hoping this is not a political dog-and-pony show, that they haven't already decided and are dragging Will in just to get political cover.''
Tuesday, Rosen indicated he is close to making a decision on whether or not to file perjury charges against the priest who never faced any charges.
"We are careful about how we make important decisions, and part of our process involves meeting with people impacted by our decisions,'' Rosen said in a written statement. "It would be premature for us to say anything at this time, but we expect to let the public know our decision, and why we made it, soon."
It is far from certain Rosen will proceed against Lindner, even in the face of more than 11 alleged victims who claim he molested them, including his niece.
Perjury cases can be extremely tough to win, as the government's three unsuccessful trials recently against celebrity baseball players Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds demonstrate. Federal prosecutors tried Clemens twice and lost both times.
In this case, the alleged lies came during the acrimonious, high-profile trial against Lynch. He said he beat up Lindner because his life had been ruined by the 37-year-old molestation, and he wanted Lindner to confess and turn himself in.
At one point, Lynch's attorneys accused prosecutor Vicki Gemetti of suborning perjury by putting Lindner on the stand, alleging she knew he would lie about his contact with the Lynch brothers. Gemetti told the jury Lindner would probably lie and essentially called the cleric a child molester. But she fervently denied she suborned perjury, and the judge refused to grant the defense's motion for a mistrial.
Gerald Uelmen, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at the Santa Clara University School of Law, has said a perjury trial would be a "circus" that would do little to protect children in the long run.
The maximum penalty for perjury is four years.
"Height of hypocrisy"
But Harris said prosecuting the priest would send a message to the community that you can't avoid the law.
He said there is ample circumstantial evidence to prove Lindner was lying and did molest the brothers. The Jesuits have paid out more than $4 million to settle child sexual molestation cases against Lindner, Harris said. Further, the attorney notes that the Jesuits sent Lindner to a psychiatric center for pedophiles in Maryland -- not once but twice, including a nine-month stretch. Later, Lindner was removed from active ministry and exiled to the Sacred Heart retirement and medical center in the Los Gatos mountains, where other priests who allegedly committed sex crimes reside.
In 2002, Sacred Heart was publicly exposed when two developmentally disabled men, who lived at the center for more than three decades, had been sexually abused by two priests they considered their friends. The Jesuits paid the men $7.5 million to settle their lawsuit.
The Jesuits also restricted Lindner's movements, barring him from leaving the retirement home unaccompanied, according to a spokesman for the California Province of the Society of Jesus.
Harris also pointed out that Gemetti argued during the trial that prosecutors had to bring charges against Lynch, regardless of how awful Lindner's alleged actions may have been, because it was their job to uphold the law.
"It would be the height of hypocrisy to turn around now and not prosecute Lindner for breaking the law,'' Harris said. "A crime has been committed here -- it was committed in court, right in front of them.''
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482.