March 23, 2006

Ex-priest's past surprises neighbors

The Morning Call

By Daniel Patrick Sheehan
and Kathleen Parrish Of The Morning Call

State police spent much of Wednesday afternoon searching the Lower Macungie Township trailer where convicted child molester and former priest Thomas Bender, arrested Tuesday in an Internet sex sting, has lived for seven years.

Bender's neighbors in the Big O mobile home park said they were shocked and angry to learn the quiet 72-year-old in unit 16 has a criminal history.

''I can handle people who have been charged with drugs or just about anything else, but not this,'' said Lori Reiss, 44, who raised two children in the 37-unit park at the foot of Bear Creek Mountain ski resort.

Bender was arraigned Wednesday on Long Island, N.Y., where he had allegedly gone for a sexual rendezvous with an online pen pal he believed to be a 14-year-old boy. The correspondent was actually an undercover detective who had spent more than a year communicating with Bender.

Bender was charged with five counts of disseminating indecent material to a minor and one count of an attempted criminal sexual act. He was arraigned in 1st District Court in Hempstead, N.Y., and held on $120,000 bail.

Results of the house search were unavailable Wednesday, but investigators in New York said they intend to search Bender's desktop and laptop computers for evidence he has been communicating with children.

Posted by kshaw at March 23, 2006 08:06 AM