Popular Catholic priest to be released on parole after serving 2 years for sexual assault
SAGINAW, MI – Less than two years after being sent to jail for sexually assaulting a teenager, a prominent Roman Catholic priest is set to be released on parole.
On December 29, a Michigan Corrections parole board decided to release Robert J. “Father Bob” DeLand Jr., MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz said. DeLand, now 73, is currently incarcerated at Marquette Branch Prison on the Upper Peninsula.
DeLand will be released around April 23, Gautz said. The conditions and restrictions DeLand will have while on parole are still being determined. DeLand’s parole sentence is expected to last two years, Gautz said.
DeLand must register as a sex offender until October 13, 2045, when he will be 98 years old.
In April 2019, Saginaw County Circuit Judge Darnell Jackson sentenced DeLand to two to 15 years in prison.
Police began investigating DeLand in November 2017 after receiving a complaint that the priest had improper contact with a minor. At the time, DeLand was pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Tittabawassee Township, volunteered as a host at Freeland High School, and was so popular that a local road was named in his honor.
Police arrested DeLand in February 2018 and he subsequently faced seven charges relating to the alleged sexual assault of two teenagers and a young man.
DeLand in September 2018 pleaded no contest to all charges. He later withdrew his pleas and was tried on a few of the charges in March 2019 and was found not guilty by a jury. Some of the charges stemmed from allegations that DeLand attempted to sexually assault a teenager in the locker room at St. Agnes Church during a memorial service in May 2017 for a schoolmate who died by suicide.
The day after the acquittal, and with two more pending trials, DeLand made a clear plea of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, gross indecency between two men, and the manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance by imitation.
The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw suspended DeLand from his priestly office.
During DeLand’s sentencing, Saginaw County Assistant District Attorney Melissa J. Hoover read a statement written by the victim into the charges DeLand pleaded.
“I would like to let it be known that what this man did to me will define my life forever,” Hoover read.
While dealing with the loss of a friend by suicide, “This man of God told me that I was not well no matter how much I told him I was strong,” Hoover read.
The teenager testified in court that DeLand gave him packs of cigarettes and $ 100 to buy ecstasy.
The teenager was 17 when he visited DeLand’s Saginaw Township condominium in February 2018, fitted with a police-provided recording device. It was then that DeLand massaged the teenager’s feet, chest and back and put his hand on the teen’s butt for a minute or two, the teen testified.
DeLand made a brief statement upon his sentencing, saying, “I’m so sorry the community has gone through all of this.”
DeLand was also accused by a 21-year-old man at the time of intoxicating him in the DeLand condo and sexually assaulting him. This man was scheduled to testify in a trial that was overturned by DeLand’s pleas.
At least two lawsuits have been filed against DeLand. One was dropped off by a diocese employee and a relative of the teenager DeLand allegedly attempted to assault in the church locker room. The other was filed by lawyer Todd J. Weglarz and names the Diocese of Saginaw and the now deceased Bishop Joseph Cistone as co-defendants.
Weglarz filed his complaint on behalf of a juvenile and adult representative, alleging that DeLand improperly touched the minor by “groping and stroking his crotch and buttocks, feet and toes.” The boy fled the condo and the police arrested DeLand the same night.
The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, headquartered at 5800 Weiss St., covers 11 counties in east-central Michigan: Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Gratiot, Huron, Isabella, Midland, Saginaw, Sanilac, and Tuscola.
Following DeLand’s arrest, the diocese cited 22 clergy as having been credibly accused of sexual misconduct dating back decades. Many of them are now deceased.