Ex-priest on the run
Cleric fled to India after he was accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl
Ex-priest Sleeva Raju Policetti (left) worked at the Infant Jesus Church in India after he fled there to avoid sexual assault charges in Chicago. (Handout photo; Rakesh Sahai/ICIJ)
Prasad Policetti would not answer police questions about the brothers' various bank accounts. And he phoned a St. Tarcissus secretary and urged her to persuade the alleged victim to "change her story" and say she and Sleeva Policetti were "just kissing," according to the affidavit.
The Tribune's efforts to locate Prasad Policetti, who left Chicago for Hyderabad four days after his brother, were unsuccessful.
After Sleeva Policetti arrived in India, he called the Chicago detective and admitted "kissing and touching" the "young girl" but denied sexual relations, according to court records.
Sleeva Policetti said "he was uncertain about when he would return to Chicago," Detective Richard Lapinski wrote in a court affidavit. "He stated he could be contacted at the Bishop's House in Hyderabad and provided a phone number."
Cardinal Francis George had immediately alerted then-Hyderabad Archbishop Marampudi Joji about the allegations against Policetti. "Father Policetti must meet with the police," the cardinal wrote in a faxed letter. "Given the grave nature of this criminal allegation, I ask that ... you direct him to return to Chicago immediately."
When Policetti arrived in Hyderabad at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 9, he went straight to Joji's house and strenuously maintained his innocence, church records show.
Four days later, George faxed Joji another letter warning him that Policetti had raised "considerable sums of money" by telling parishioners "he was opening a school in Hyderabad. He may suddenly disappear again and use such monies, including $30,000 in a Bank of South India account, for his personal support."
Joji faxed George an "urgent" reply saying he had persuaded Policetti to return to Chicago. Policetti wrote separately to assure George he was heading back to Chicago "at the earliest" to "tell you my version of what had happened."
More than a week passed. When Joji finally summoned Policetti, his brother Prasad appeared instead and told Joji "definitively" that Sleeva Policetti "will not be returning to Chicago," church records show.
Joji then took the most drastic step in his power. He notified Sleeva Policetti in a letter that he was barred "from officiating or participating in public or private as a priest," citing his "deceptive claims of innocence."
Yet roughly a year later, Policetti wrote to a St. Tarcissus parishioner and encouraged her to support a child she had sponsored through him at an orphanage. As he would do in extradition court filings and fundraising appeals over the following years, Policetti described himself as a priest in good standing: "Regarding my ministry, I will be posted soon in the parish ... as a pastor," he wrote.
Chicago archdiocese officials sent a copy of that fundraising appeal to Joji, asking in alarm whether Policetti was indeed about to be posted as a pastor.
A month later, in May 2003, India police arrested Policetti outside Hyderabad.
As India began the process of extraditing him to the U.S. to face trial, Policetti was held in judicial custody for about two weeks, then released on bail, court records show. He has been free since then.
Jackson and Marx are Tribune reporters. Ritu Sarin, a reporter for the Indian Express, is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the Center for Public Integrity. Her work on this story from India was funded by a grant to ICIJ from The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.