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Blanco monks face sex assault charges; faked weeping icon

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  • Al Green
    Blanco monks face sex assault charges Web Posted: 07/26/2006 02:35 AM CDT Zeke MacCormack Express-News Staff Writer BLANCO — A bid by Samuel Greene Jr. to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 26, 2006
      Blanco monks face sex assault charges

      Web Posted: 07/26/2006 02:35 AM CDT

      Zeke MacCormack
      Express-News Staff Writer

      BLANCO — A bid by Samuel Greene Jr. to clear his
      conscience instead implicated the controversial
      founder of Christ of the Hills Monastery and four
      followers in alleged sexual assaults of two boys there
      in the 1990s, authorities say.

      Dozens of local, state and federal investigators swept
      into the religious enclave at dawn Tuesday with
      indictments returned Monday and a warrant to search
      the 105-acre site for evidence of sexual misconduct,
      said Blanco County Sheriff Bill Elsbury.

      "As far as I'm concerned, it's a complete fraud," he
      said of the monastery that opened in 1981 and housed a
      so-called "weeping icon" that once attracted thousands
      of pilgrims each week.

      An affidavit filed in support of a search warrant
      quotes Greene, who's on probation for indecency with a
      novice monk in 1997, as admitting he'd molested untold
      numbers of boys since the 1970s.

      The new charges concern another former novice monk who
      claims he regularly was assaulted starting in 1993 by
      Greene, aka "Father Benedict," and the other four who
      were indicted.

      The affidavit by Deputy William Smith says Greene
      justified the alleged abuse and believed "the boys
      enjoy the sexual activity and that he is actually
      helping to guide and direct otherwise troubled

      It says Greene, 61, rationalized his past conduct by
      saying "the reason he was able to avoid criminal
      charges all these years was that God was on his side."

      Before opening the Eastern Orthodox Christian
      monastery in 1981, Greene was known around San Antonio
      for his colorful real estate pitches on television and
      radio as "Sam the Land Man."

      Drawing on his business expertise, the monastery
      launched a sophisticated marketing campaign — centered
      on the weeping icon — that tax records show brought in
      as much as $750,000 some years.

      The raid capped a yearlong investigation — which is
      still ongoing — that Elsbury said unfolded amid tight
      secrecy due to fears that evidence might be destroyed
      or that investigators could face resistance if word
      leaked out.

      Express-News Graphic

      "The monks were totally surprised," District Attorney
      Sam Oatman said by cell phone from the site Tuesday

      "We're taking the icon into custody as we speak, as a
      criminal instrument, as part of the fraud that we're
      investigating for grand jury presentation," he said.

      Elsbury said deputies tracked down two former novice
      monks named by Greene as victims last year in an
      interview with his probation officer, Wynn Stevenson.

      The affidavit says the men, whose names are not being
      released, confirmed being sexually abused by Greene
      and other monks as boys.

      "A1 in his recorded statement described actual orgy
      situations," says the affidavit, referring to the

      Ironically, Elsbury said, Greene gave the
      incriminating statement in an effort to reassure
      Stevenson he was abiding by the terms of his

      Elsbury said Greene was asked to take a polygraph
      test, and failed, last July in the wake of reports —
      never substantiated — that he'd been around kids while
      on probation.

      "His claim to his probation officer is that he had not
      reviolated, but what was causing the bad (polygraph)
      result was the guilt from all the things he had done
      in the past," Elsbury said. "(Stevenson) said, 'OK,
      purge yourself and we'll retake the test. Get it off
      your chest.'"

      Stevenson secretly recorded the interview in which
      Greene admitted molestations dating back to the 1970s,
      Elsbury said.

      Besides naming the two boys tracked down by
      investigators, Elsbury said Greene confirmed
      suspicions that the picture of the Virgin Mary that
      was said to weep tears of rose oil was a fake.

      "The whole thing is going to be exposed as a sham,"
      the sheriff said. "They just put the tear drops on
      there themselves and then got all these people making
      donations trying to get some kind of miracle cure."

      The indictments returned Monday evening by a specially
      convened grand jury concern only one boy's complaint.

      The arrests may mark the final chapter for the
      troubled religious community that once bustled with
      visitors and 14 monks but has taken on the feel of a
      ghost town of late.

      About 35 law enforcement personnel converged on the
      dusty hilltop monastery at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday,
      including local deputies, several Texas Rangers,
      evidence technicians from the Department of Public
      Safety and agents of the U.S. Postal Service and the
      Internal Revenue Service.

      Federal authorities were involved since donations to
      the weeping icon were solicited over the internet and
      through the mail.

      Elsbury said Greene was convalescing in Austin from a
      recent car wreck when charged Tuesday with sexual
      assault of a child, organized crime and sexual
      performance by a child.

      Arrested without incident at the monastery was its
      abbott, William E. Hughes, 55, aka "Father Vasili,"
      Walter P. Christley, 44, aka "Father Pagratios," and
      Hugh Brian Fallon, 40, aka "Father Tihkon," each
      charged with organized crime and sexual assault of a
      child, Elsbury said.

      Also indicted on those charges was Jonathan Hitt, 45,
      aka "Father Jeremiah," who's serving a 10-year
      sentence for abusing the same boy that Greene pleaded
      guilty to abusing in 2000.

      Bond was set at $250,000 each, but due to health
      issues, Greene was released on a personal recognizance
      bond. Arraignment was set for July 31.

      An elderly ward of the monks was transferred to a
      nursing home, and one monk, identified as Father
      Moses, was not implicated in the investigation and was
      allowed to remain at the monastery.

      Many locals had expressed their doubts about the
      weeping icon and the bearded, black-robed monks who
      largely kept to themselves.

      The monks had reacted to Hitt's jury conviction by
      saying he'd been falsely accused by a novice who'd
      proven his untruthfulness in his years at the
      monastery. They cast Greene's guilty plea as a gambit
      by an innocent man to avoid prison.

      To casual observers, the sordid episode closed in 2002
      when the former novice's lawsuit against the monastery
      was settled for about $1 million.

      But Elsbury said his own suspicions never subsided.

      "We kept a constant look at these individuals," he
      said Tuesday. "It was a matter of us believing that
      there's criminal activity ongoing out there."

      Doubts about the monks were fueled by the arrest there
      in 2004 of Gary Sabino, who was wanted in Florida on
      child molestation charges. The monks claimed not to
      know why Sabino, an acquaintance of a past monastery
      resident, had chosen to take refuge there.

      Vasili contended the whole monastery had unfairly been
      cast under a cloud of suspicion due to the misdeeds of
      a few.

      "We do have a hard time, and every time someone like
      you writes one of those articles, it gets worse," he
      said after the arrest of Sabino.


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