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Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s property transfers spur lawsuit

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

A new lawsuit alleges that the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has transferred “virtually all” its parishes and real property into a trust since 2012 to shield the assets from possible creditors, including survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

The allegations are included in one of two lawsuits filed this week by two New Mexico men who allege they were abused as children by former priests in the archdiocese.

Albuquerque attorney Brad Hall is asking a 2nd Judicial District judge to rule that the properties transferred into trust remain available to help pay court judgments against the archdiocese.

Hall has filed more than 60 clerical abuse lawsuits against the archdiocese since 2012, most of which have since been settled for undisclosed amounts.

“We believe it is a deliberate strategy to avoid paying creditors in the event that we go to trial and win a big judgment,” said Lisa Ford, an Albuquerque attorney who works with Hall.

The strategy of shielding assets “has been used by numerous other dioceses when they file bankruptcy,” Ford said.

Phone and email messages left Friday for the archdiocese’s spokeswoman were not returned.

Deeds filed with the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office show that the archdiocese has transferred many of its Bernalillo County parishes and real properties into a trust controlled by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe Real Estate Corp.

The archdiocese formed the nonprofit Archdiocese of Santa Fe Real Estate Corp. in December 2012, according to records filed with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office.

State records also show that the archdiocese incorporated most of its 92 parishes as nonprofits in 2012 and 2013.

In a lawsuit filed this week, Hall alleged that the archdiocese “transferred virtually all of its corporate assets to the newly incorporated parishes and the ADSF Real Estate Corporation” in 2012 and 2013.

Archdiocese officials retain control of the incorporated parishes and the real estate corporation, the suit said.

The transfers “were made for the primary purpose of shielding those assets from creditors,” including alleged sexual abuse victims, it said.

Some U.S. dioceses involved in bankruptcy protection cases have drawn accusations of shielding assets for transferring money and property into a variety of trusts.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee transferred $57 million into a cemetery fund before it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011, prompting accusations that it was attempting to shield assets from sexual abuse claimants. The archdiocese settled the case last year for $21 million.

The alleged victim in Hall’s lawsuit is a 48-year-old Albuquerque man who said he was sexually abused as a boy by Jason Sigler, a former priest who served time in a Michigan prison from 2003 to 2014 after pleading guilty to multiple charges of sexually abusing minors.

Sigler did not respond to voice-mail messages left by the Journal on Friday.

The second lawsuit was filed this week by an Albuquerque man, 56, who alleged he was sexually abused as a boy by Edward Rutowski, now deceased, a former pastor at Nativity of our Blessed Virgin Mary in Albuquerque.

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