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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - A falsely accused Detroit priest has been vindicated, a case evaluation panel unanimously finding he was the target of defamation and awarding him damages of $125,000.
"I want to express my deep gratitude to my outstanding, dedicated attorneys for this vindication of truth," Fr. Eduard Perrone said in comments to Church Militant. "I join all those who have prayed for me in thanking God. While there is more yet to be done in my case, this award marks a notable first triumph. Thank you, all."
"I feel completely vindicated in everything we've tried to do," Kathleen Klaus, attorney for Fr. Perrone, told Church Militant, "because here are three people, complete strangers — lawyers — strangers to the facts, strangers to the parties, and all of them found unanimously that Fr. Perrone was defamed by Nancy LePage."
In a three-hour evaluation proceeding Friday morning held in Detroit, the three-person panel heard arguments from Klaus and from the attorney for Sgt. Det. Nancy LePage of the Macomb County Sheriff's Department. LePage was sued by Perrone for defamation last year after she falsely told the archdiocese of Detroit that he "sodomized" John Doe, the alleged victim — a claim that led to Perrone's suspension in July 2019.
The false allegation also led to national and international headlines tarnishing Perrone's reputation and portraying him as an abuser priest.
The panel unanimously found that LePage was guilty of defamation for falsely claiming Perrone raped John Doe, when Doe never made these claims himself. In fact, after reading Church Militant's Nov. 25 report titled "Detroit Archdiocese Engaged in Witness Manipulation," John Doe called up Msgr. Michael Bugarin, episcopal vicar and the cleric spearheading the investigation for the archdiocese, to remind him "that he never said he was sodomized."
LePage — who once said she wanted to "beat Fr. Perrone into the ground" — was tapped to help investigate claims against Perrone on behalf of the archdiocese, working closely with Bugarin, who was also her parish priest at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in St. Clair Shores.
At Friday's proceeding, LePage's attorney argued in her defense that she was acting in her capacity as an officer and thus was entitled to immunity. Her sworn testimony, however, proves the opposite, LePage admitting during a prior deposition that she was acting on her own and not on behalf of the Macomb County Sheriff's Department when she interviewed John Doe for the archdiocese.
"The panel just didn't buy it because of what she said under oath," Klaus told Church Militant.
Records show LePage interviewed John Doe for the first time on Aug. 27, 2018, failing to record the interview and destroying her notes afterward. In fact, LePage consistently violated protocol in all her dealings with the accuser, failing to record her calls and shredding her notes.
"Contrary to the procedures set forth in the Michigan Model Policy: The Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault for Adults and Young Adults ('Model Policy'), LePage did not record this or any other interview with John Doe," according to a separate lawsuit filed by parishioners of Assumption Grotto in February 2020. "She also shredded all of the notes she took of any interview conducted in connection with her investigation."
After an initial interview with John Doe didn't net the desired results, LePage and Bugarin called the accuser in for a second interview on June 27, 2019.
"Bugarin and LePage were concerned that not making a public display of doing 'something' may bring a harsh glare of negative publicity that attends every allegation of clergy sex abuse, credible or not," the Grotto parishioners' complaint reads. "If John Doe could be intimidated and manipulated into saying something salacious, Bugarin could satisfy the Review Board's concerns, trigger the removal of Fr. Perrone and get ahead of the imminent AP story and the attendant publicity."
With the Associated Press asking questions, media pressure led Lepage and Bugarin to interview John Doe on June 27. The transcript shows that LePage introduced the word "sodomized" into the discussion, asking Doe if he was anally penetrated by Perrone. John Doe says he cannot "vividly recall" any abuse happening, but LePage and Bugarin both pressure him to confess abuse, which he repeatedly denies remembering. In other places, John Doe contradicts himself, claiming something may or may not have happened, but he has a hard time recalling the details.
A third and final interview took place on July 2, a transcript showing that both Bugarin and LePage again placed pressure on Doe to admit abuse.
LePage has been accused of witness manipulation in another case.
She came under fire after a former altar boy accused her of deceptively inserting words in his testimony that appear to incriminate Perrone.
James Fortenberry, who spent time with John Doe as a youth at Perrone's mother's lakehouse, testified in an affidavit that he never witnessed or experienced any inappropriate behavior by Perrone. Interviewed over the phone by LePage, he told her that while he and others spent nights in the guestroom of St. Peter's parish rectory, he never saw or experienced any abuse.
LePage, however, falsely wrote that Fortenberry spent nights in "Fr. Perrone's bedroom," a point Fortenberry strenuously denies.
"Ms. LePage asked me questions about Fr. Perrone and it quickly became clear that she was trying to manipulate me into saying that Fr. Perrone abused me, when this was not the case," Fortenberry wrote in his affidavit.
"Ms. LePage's notes of our interview show that she was not listening to what I was saying and that she conducted the interview based on her belief that Fr. Perrone abused me even though I told her this was not true," he continued.
In sworn testimony given on Oct. 29, Fortenberry said of LePage, "I felt like she was trying to taint — take what I said and almost groom it to what she wanted me to say."
The ruling is not binding until both parties accept the judgment. The parties have 28 days to respond either accepting or rejecting the ruling. If neither party can agree, the matter will likely go back to court for final resolution.
In spite of the clear evidence for defamation, the archdiocese of Detroit has yet to restore Perrone to active ministry, and he remains suspended to this day.
Critics have blasted Macomb County Sheriff Anthony M. Wickersham for still employing LePage and have asked why she has not been fired or at least disciplined for committing perjury.
Sheriff Anthony M. Wickersham: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: (586) 469-5151
Perrone Defense Fund
c/o Harry Wisniewski
P.O. Box 165
St. Clair Shores, MI 48080