Suspect Found Among Monks

Author: Candace J. Samolinski
Date Published: 11/19/2004

HOLIDAY – Sporting a frizzy gray beard like those of the monks who gave him shelter, Gary Sabino emerged from Christ of the Hills Monastery in Texas on the arms of FBI agents.

Two days shy of his 47th birthday, Sabino returned to Pasco County on Nov. 10 in the company of the sheriff’s detective whose dogged persistence led to the former carpenter’s capture on molestation charges. It was a day a mother and her three daughters had prayed would come.

If Detective Jim Gariepy, then a property crimes detective, had not been temporarily assigned to the Major Crimes Unit in 2003, he might not have encountered Sabino, who was living in Holiday.

When the call came in that Sabino might have child pornography depicting the three girls, Gariepy took it. He could not have foreseen a case that led to a nearly two-year manhunt and ended at the doorstep of a Blanco, Texas, monastery with a history of harboring pedophiles.

”I was determined to find him, even if it took me until I retired,” Gariepy said Thursday. ”I went back to property [unit] and in between I was still working this case, two hours here, three hours there, and finally it all paid off.

”A lot of people said, ‘Go onto another case.’ I just said, ‘You have three girls out there who were abused.’ I felt like we had to find this guy.”

Sabino was first arrested in January 2003, after a 9-year- old girl accused him of fondling her. The charge was lewd and lascivious molestation, and a judge reduced the initial $150,000 bail to $25,000, according to court records. Sabino posted a bond and was released.

”He pretty much disappeared,” Gariepy said.

Soon after, Gariepy got the call about the pornography accusation, and the case snowballed from there, he said. In March 2003, a judge issued a warrant for Sabino’s arrest on two counts of capital sexual battery and a new charge of lewd and lascivious molestation, all against girls younger than 12. Gariepy declined to say what led him to the monastery 45 minutes north of San Antonio.

”There are some particulars about how that happened that I don’t want to reveal now, but through investigations I did find him,” Gariepy said. ”He was living under an assumed name in the monastery. Yeah, they were surprised, but it’s not like this is an elite place. The founder and another monk were convicted of child molestation.”

The history of the monastery founded in 1981 by Samuel A. Greene Jr., also known as Father Benedict, is filled with scandal. According to published Texas news reports, Greene, a former real estate agent, gained notoriety for the fledgling mission through a slick marketing campaign in 1985.

It was aimed at promoting scented oil that allegedly began appearing beneath the eyes of a painting of the Virgin Mary. The campaign worked, and thousands of curious and desperate people from across the country flocked to Blanco, a town of about 1,100.

Also, money flowed into the monastery, which was operated by Ecumenical Monks Inc. Internal Revenue Service records showed $750,000 a year in donations in the 1990s, and the gift shop brought in about $100,000 a year. Those who donated were sent letters of thanks and cotton balls said to be soaked in the ”tears of myrrh.”

In 1991, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia admitted the monastery as ”a brotherhood” into its Eastern Diocese, published reports say. Two years later, an 8-year-old boy, who later would file complaints against Greene and another monk, moved from his parents’ home in Houston to the abbey, where his parents had wed and he had been baptized.

The boy continued living at the monastery and eventually became a novice monk in training under the direction of Jonathan Hitt, known as Father Jeremiah. In 1997, the boy accused Greene and Hitt of molesting him, according to published reports about the court case that followed.

In 1999, Hitt was convicted of eight counts of indecency with a minor and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The same year, the Russian church severed ties with the monastery, which then joined the Kiev- based Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Its affiliation with that church continues today, according to the monastery’s Internet site.

In 2000, Greene admitted molesting the boy as part of a plea deal that required him to pay a $10,000 fine and serve 10 years’ probation, published reports say.

Reached at the monastery Thursday, spokesman William E. Hughes, known as Father Vasili, declined to comment about Sabino’s stay there.

Sabino was in the Land O’ Lakes jail Thursday, held without bail.

Since Oct. 1, Gariepy has been a full-time detective in the Major Crimes Unit and is responsible for investigating crimes against children.

”I hope I have as much success in other cases. This one was a little bit easier because I only had one case and now I have a bunch,” Gariepy said. ”I went to extremes and did everything I could. I learned a lot.”

Reporter Candace J. Samolinski can be reached at (813) 948-4215.