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Molest charges against three LA ex-priests

By HIL ANDERSON

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Los Angeles County authorities arrested two former priests Wednesday and planned to arrest a third on charges stemming from an investigation into allegations of child molestation in the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese.

Los Angeles police arrested Carlos Rene Rodriguez, 46, at his home in Commerce at dawn Wednesday while sheriff's deputies took Michael Baker into custody in Long Beach later in the day.

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"After their booking by police, it is expected that the suspects arrested today will be charged and arraigned in court within the next 48 hours," District Attorney Steve Cooley said in a brief statement. "A case against a third suspect who was sought today, but not arrested, also may be filed later this week."

The criminal charges were the first in the Los Angeles archdiocese since the launch of a joint LAPD-sheriff's investigation that lasted several months. The diocese includes nearly 3.6 million Catholics in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.

Rodriguez was charged with molesting a 12-year-old altar boy over a two-year period in the mid-1980s and a second victim, a 16-year-old boy, during a camping trip in 1987. He had been dismissed from the priesthood in 1993.

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"This case was reported to the (police) department in 1987, however, since the crime occurred out of state, the department had no investigative authority," the LAPD said in a press release. "The Los Angeles Police Department made telephonic contact with the responsible law enforcement agency and forwarded a crime report to that agency."

Rodriguez was booked at police headquarters downtown on a $400,000 warrant charging him with committing lewd acts on a minor.

No details were released on Baker's arrest, but the former priest was well known in the three-county diocese after he became the target of repeated allegations of improper behavior toward young boys.

"You have to understand that Father Mike... was like a rock star priest," Matt Severson, one of a number of altar boys whom Baker allegedly molested, told television station KNBC. "I think even he saw himself as above the Church. He did not live like other priests."

A Los Angeles Times report in August said that Baker was a popular priest in the city's Hispanic Pico Union neighborhood, but lawsuits alleging improper behavior caused him to be repeatedly ordered into counseling and moved to different assignments before he was eventually dismissed from the clergy.

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