was a Mormon church member in Colorado; pleaded guilty to charges of child sexual abuse on multiple occasions; sentenced in 2008 to two consecutive terms of 10 years to life in prison; later sentenced to 36 more years to life

Case Summary

Brett Candelaria was a Mormon church member in Colorado.

In the 1980s, as a teenager, Candelaria was accused of sexual assault by a young boy. It was reported to police, but no criminal charges were ever filed.

In late 1992, allegations were again brought against him for molestation of three boys ages 9, 10, and 13. Candelaria pleaded guilty to four counts of abuse with a minor.

In 1997, more allegations of sexual abuse came from two boys ages 6 and 8.

From 2002 forward occurred Candelaria’s most serious legal charge after he took in a 14 year old boy. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of custodial interference, but for reasons that are not clear from court records, the boy was allowed to stay with him, according to the Denver Post.

In January 2008, to boys ages 13 and 14 told police that they were molested by Candelaria. They told “how Candelaria had befriended their family at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How he had gained the trust of
their family. How he wowed them with his collection of pristine Hot Wheels cars, with his Xbox 360 and his PlayStation

On January 18, 2008, criminal charges were filed against Candelaria.

In March 2008, another boy came forward stating that Candelaria had abused him.

On September 5, 2008, prosecutors filed 15 separate counts against Candelaria. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of 10 years to life in prison.

In his next trial, Candelaria was sentenced to an additional 36 years to life.

  1. Denver DA thinks molester had more victims
    view source details | 7 Mar 2009 | Denver Post
  2. Child molester Brett Candelaria: The nightmare next door
    view source details | 15 Aug 2009 | Denver Post
  3. Congregations informed of alleged abuse by priests
    view source details | 17 Dec 2014 | Bishop Accountability (original: Daily Times, Farmington, New Mexico)
Sources excerpts
  • Denver DA thinks molester had more victims
    Source type: News article
    Publisher: Denver Post
    Date published/accessed: 7 Mar 2009
    archive 1 | archive 2

    There may be more victims who have yet to come forward of a man convicted this week of two counts of sexual assault on a child, according to the Denver’s District Attorney’s office.

    DA spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough said today that Brett Candelaria , 36 , may spend life in prison after a conviction for sexually assaulting two teenage boys in Denver. According to Kimbrough, Candelaria has a sex crime history that spans to 1994 in New Mexico .

    “Investigators documented numerous cases dating back to 1994. The pattern is such that they believe there are more victims in Denver and Lakewood,” Kimbrough said.

    Candelaria was convicted Tuesday of assaulting the two boys in his home in the 4800 block of West Kentucky Avenue in Denver. He is also scheduled for a second trial next month on charges he assaulted a third boy.

    Candelaria faces an indeterminate to life term when he is sentenced on May 29 . The sentencing judge will decided on a term between four to 12 years and then after the term, a parole board will decide after that term whether or not Candelaria should stay in prison.

    According to a press release from the DA, “Candelaria befriended the boys using gifts, video games and entertainment to lure them into a friendly relationship before assaulting them.”

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    Child molester Brett Candelaria: The nightmare next door
    Source type: News article
    Publisher: Denver Post
    Date published/accessed: 15 Aug 2009
    archive 1 | archive 2

    They are all gathered in the Denver courtroom, anxious to see what will happen to the man in the stone-gray pullover — the man with the Hot Wheels collection and the video games and a string of shattered young men stretching across two states.

    Sitting in the back is a man from New Mexico in Wranglers and a black buttoned shirt, grown now with children of his own. He was 10 years old that day in 1992 when the defendant took him for a ride in his car, stopped at a park and molested him. He is here for himself and for his two brothers, also victims.

    A slight 17-year-old boy with a buzz cut sits nearby, his red tie sticking out from the collar of his white shirt. Three years ago, after many sexual assaults, he had his head slammed against the side of a U-Haul when he tried to halt the abuse.

    Next to him, close, is one of the Denver police detectives who investigated his case. Their work is done, and yet the abuse case gnaws at them. They worry that the abuser took advantage of still other boys, boys they haven’t heard about.

    In the corner sits a juror who pronounced the defendant guilty on 15 counts, wondering what happens next.

    An air conditioner drones as 37-year-old Brett Candelaria, flanked by his attorneys, awaits his fate. It is a few minutes before 4 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 13. Judge William Robbins Jr. is about to sentence Candelaria.

    A ruse perfected over decades

    Brett Candelaria was just a teenager when he started preying on boys, according to court documents.

    Over two decades, he perfected his ruse, finding vulnerable families, latching onto them at church, quickly winning their trust and then, after obtaining easy access to young boys, committing horrific crimes.

    Experts call it “grooming” — a process of subtly ingratiating himself to families to the point at which otherwise cautious mothers and fathers thought nothing of letting their boys spend the night at his home.

    One mother whose family was victimized by Candelaria found him, in the beginning, so perfect. A regular at her church, polite and respectful. Helpful when her husband’s car broke down, offering to pay for new parts. A friend who gave her teenage son a job.

    It was only later, after Candelaria had molested her son and her nephew, that the woman realized she’d been taken in by the kind of deliberate, insidious assault that pedophiles perfect over years.

    “I look at it now, and I think, God, I was so naive,” she said. “I just never would have thought — especially someone from your church.

    “It’s always the people you least expect.”

    Her family learned that lesson with cruel certainty.

    That it doesn’t matter what someone looks like. That a role in a church is no guarantee of a person’s motives. That anyone can be a child molester.

    “There is no typical face to a predator,” said Maggie Conboy, a deputy district attorney in Denver. “Brett Candelaria looked like the guy next door, and he cultivated that image.”

    Life sketched in police reports

    There is much about Candelaria that remains a mystery. He declined a request for an interview, and the detectives and prosecutors who spent 18 months studying him came away with more questions than answers. But sketches of his life fill court records and police reports.

    Candelaria grew up in northwestern New Mexico in the Farmington-Aztec area. He never really knew his dad, a man, he claimed to one detective, who fathered 27 children. For a time he used his mother’s name — Archuleta — but adopted his father’s after a paternity test proved his lineage.

    He was a teenager the first time a young boy accused him of sexual assault. That was in the 1980s, and though it was reported to police, no criminal charges were ever filed, according to court documents.

    In late 1992, a mother’s allegations that Candelaria molested three of her sons sparked a police investigation and formal criminal charges. Candelaria was 20, working as a security guard, when he befriended the woman’s family, attending church with them, spending time with the boys. The relationship grew comfortable enough that Candelaria sometimes spent the night in her family’s home. And three of her sons — ages 9, 10, and 13 — sometimes spent the night at Candelaria’s home.

    All three boys alleged that Candelaria molested them. The oldest boy reported the abuse even though Candelaria issued a cryptic threat: “Do you want to see your family? I am dead serious.”

    He pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual contact with a minor — although he would later contend he was pressured by his attorney to make the plea — and spent about two years behind bars.

    In the spring of 1997, Candelaria found work at a Farmington trailer park.

    And he faced a new set of allegations from two boys, ages 6 and 8. The allegations were a virtual repeat of the ones that sent him to prison. A meeting with the mother of the boys. Church. Trust. Sleepovers. Sexual contact. But in that case, a jury acquitted Candelaria, and he eventually left New Mexico.

    By late 2002, Candelaria was in Colorado, where he found work delivering furniture and cleaning out homes where tenants had been evicted. He racked up a sheaf of traffic tickets and other misdemeanor charges. In all, he was ticketed 21 times.

    During that span, his most serious legal scrape — a charge of custodial interference — was filed after he took in a 14-year-old New Mexico boy and brought him to Colorado to live with him. Candelaria pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, but for reasons that are not clear from court records, the boy was allowed to stay with him. Candelaria often told people the young man was his little brother. And despite numerous questions about the state of their relationship, that boy would remain a steadfast supporter of Candelaria’s.

    Gaining family’s trust at church

    The world Candelaria had crafted crashed down on Jan. 15, 2008. That day, two cousins, ages 13 and 14, told Denver police Detective Lou Estrada that Candelaria had molested them 10 days earlier.

    Each told a similar story. How Candelaria had befriended their family at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How he had gained the trust of their family. How he wowed them with his collection of pristine Hot Wheels cars, with his Xbox 360 and his PlayStation.

    How, after hours of video games, Candelaria proposed a game of “truth or dare” — a game that led to sexual contact. In follow-up interviews, the boys would allege that Candelaria had forced them to engage in oral sex with him — and each other — after plying them with alcohol.

    Later that day, at police headquarters, Candelaria denied that he’d ever played the game, that he’d ever exposed himself to the boys, that he’d ever touched them.

    “Never?” Estrada asked at one point.

    “Never,” Candelaria answered.

    As Estrada dug into the case, he found a pattern familiar to sex-crimes detectives. Candelaria maintained the facade of a heterosexual. On his MySpace page, where he listed himself as 27 when in reality he was in his upper 30s, he wrote that he was interested in “networking, dating, serious relationships, friends,” and, under the section for “children,” he wrote, “someday.”

    He used the church to gain access to the boys. In New Mexico, his Catholic faith and his involvement in the Knights of Columbus let him get close to the three brothers. In Denver, his membership in the Mormon Church put him in touch with the cousins and won the trust of their family.

    His home was, in the words of a prosecutor, a “palace for boys.” He had the Hot Wheels. Dishes of candy. The latest video games. He let the boys play until all hours of the night.

    More than 18 months after first encountering Candelaria, Detective Estrada would describe him in stark terms.

    “He’s a monster,” the veteran officer said.

    Charges were filed against Candelaria on Jan. 18, 2008.

    The friendly father figure

    Two months later, a 16-year-old boy told his social worker that Candelaria had molested him.

    The boy, his two older brothers and their mother had lived across the street from Candelaria. Their family struggled. Their mother worked nights, their cupboards were often bare, and they had no father figure in their lives.

    Candelaria filled the void.

    He caught the youngest one breaking into a garage in the neighborhood, followed him home, and invited the family to church. Within weeks, the boys were spending a lot of time at Candelaria’s home. Their mother even listed him as an emergency contact at school.

    He showered gifts on the youngest of the brothers, according to court records. More than $200 worth of clothes. A remote-control car. Pretty soon, he started talking sex with the boy, who was still 14.

    “This is all right if you do this, and it is all right if you mess with guys,” Candelaria said, the boy told detectives.

    Candelaria crawled into bed with him, despite the boy’s protests, and fondled him. He made him undress and sit in the bathtub for a haircut, then tried to fondle him there. He gave him beer. He tried repeatedly to coax sex from him, and he grew violent when the boy protested. One day he slammed the boy’s head against a trailer.

    The Denver police detective who worked the case, Christine Steinke, came to believe the boy was the “ideal” victim.

    “He was poor. He was hungry. He needed a father figure,” she said.

    Later, she would look back and declare Candelaria a sociopath, devoid of remorse, unable to grasp that what he did was wrong.

    “He thinks he’s helping people,” she said. “He always reiterates to everyone: ‘I gave them food. I gave them clothing. I gave them what they didn’t have.’ ”

    On Sept. 5, 2008, prosecutors filed 15 separate counts against Candelaria.

    Fourteen months after the charges from the cousins’ case were filed, Deputy DA Conboy and fellow prosecutor Courtney Johnston took Candelaria to trial on four counts of sexual assault on a child for his contact with the two boys. They also won a ruling allowing them to call the three New Mexico brothers to testify about Candelaria’s assaults.

    Each laid out a story remarkably similar to those told by the two cousins.

    Candelaria himself took the stand March 2. It would be the only time he publicly addressed the allegations swirling around him.

    In rambling testimony, he blamed his attorney for his convictions in New Mexico, said several times that he “didn’t like to be around kids” and claimed that he helped the family of the two cousins because they had no food.

    He denied all of the charges — the efforts to get into bed with the boys, the touching.

    “I’ve never done that,” Candelaria testified.

    He accused the boys — and the New Mexico brothers — of making up the allegations against him, going so far as to say they were “lying.”

    The jury believed the boys, finding Candelaria guilty of two counts of sexual assault on a child, but acquitting him on two other counts alleging that he was in a “position of trust” with the cousins.

    Judge Robbins sentenced Candelaria to two consecutive terms of 10 years to life.

    On June 29, Candelaria’s second Denver trial began, and it was a virtual carbon copy of the first.

    The boy he allegedly assaulted took the stand in handcuffs — he is serving a sentence in the state Division of Youth Corrections for a theft conviction. The cousins from the first trial testified, as did the three brothers from New Mexico.

    The oldest of the brothers, now 30, stole a glance at Candelaria as he left the witness stand that day.

    “I wanted to just tell him, ‘See you later — forever,’ ” he said later. “I wanted him to see who I was before I left — revenge, I guess.”

    This time, Candelaria decided not to testify. His attorneys, Trent Mannina and Danielle McCarthy, worked to poke holes in the stories told by the various witnesses.

    It didn’t matter. On July 6, the jury found him guilty on all counts.

    Judge Robbins scheduled sentencing for Aug. 13. A sheriff’s deputy led Candelaria away. As he passed prosecutor Johnston, he uttered, “liars” — not loudly, but forcefully.

    “A devastating legacy”

    It is precisely 3:56 p.m. on Thursday.

    Judge Robbins calls case No. 2008-CR-4421, People vs. Candelaria.

    The man from New Mexico — the middle brother — steps to the microphone. He pulls a single piece of paper from his pocket, unfolding it. He speaks six words, then breaks down, emotion choking him.

    “I’m glad that I am here,” he says after gathering himself. “I’m not running from it anymore. . . . I was scared to face him again, but it’s just made me stronger . . . to be here. . . . I am here to show that I’m not going to run from my past anymore.”

    Deputy DA Conboy asks for the maximum sentence as a statement to the victims.

    “Mr. Candelaria has left a devastating legacy on them,” Conboy says, “one that time may balm but never erase.”

    Candelaria sits impassively, his wrists cuffed to a chain wrapped around his waist.

    Candelaria’s attorney, Mannina, argues that the evidence in the case is muddled, asserts that the cousins initiated the sexual contact, that the boy in the red tie repeatedly returned to Candelaria’s house after the assaults.

    “I’m not sure what the horror is,” Mannina says.

    Candelaria does not speak.

    The judge does.

    “Mr. Candelaria, the only way to protect the young men of this community from you is to keep you behind bars for a good long time,” Judge Robbins says.

    He hands down a lengthy sentence: 36 years to life on top of the 20 years to life he got in the earlier case.

    Candelaria won’t be eligible for parole for 34 years.

    Outside the courtroom, the victim from New Mexico approaches the boy in the red tie with words of encouragement.

    Keep your head above water. Remember what’s important. I’ll be praying for you.

    Detective Steinke, who worries about the legacy the boy will carry with him, waits to drive him back to the youth detention center.

    The boy has only one wish.

    He asks Detective Steinke to take him to Taco Bell.

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    Congregations informed of alleged abuse by priests
    Source type: News article
    Publisher: Bishop Accountability (original: Daily Times, Farmington, New Mexico)
    Date published/accessed: 17 Dec 2014
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    FARMINGTON — The Diocese of Gallup has released more information about sexual abuse allegations against some of its clergy.

    On Monday, the diocese published on its website the names of 30 priests and one lay teacher it determined have had "credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor" against them since the 1950s. The affected congregations were notified during Mass on Sunday.

    Five priests on the list — John Boland, Charles "Chuck" Cichanowicz, Joseph Coutu, Conran Runnebaum and Lawrence "Larry" Schreiber — served in San Juan County, as did the only lay person, Brett Candelaria.

    "It always surprises me that there would be credible allegations against a priest," said Father Tim Farrell, the pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Farmington. "It not only surprises me, it disturbs me."

    Farrell was among dozens of priests in the diocese who stood in front of their parishes Sunday to read a letter from Bishop James S. Wall naming the priests accused of sexual abuse and stating the diocese's commitment to transparency and creating a safe environment for families. Runnebaum and Schreiber served at Sacred Heart, and Boland was chaplain of the church's school, according to the diocese's list.

    Releasing the list "was one of the things Bishop Wall wanted to do ever since becoming bishop," said Suzanne Hammons, the media coordinator for the diocese, on Tuesday.

    Earlier this year, the diocese began an investigation into alleged sexual abuse by clergy. The diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2013 in the face of a series of lawsuits claiming clergy sexual abuse.

    Farrell said he feels the diocese waited too long to publish the names of the accused priests.

    "This should have been dealt with years ago, and here we are in 2014 just putting these names out," he said.

    Farrell added, "When someone has a credible allegation, deal with it then and don't wait for a lawsuit."

    Although several of the priests served in San Juan County, that does not mean they committed the alleged offenses here, Farrell said.

    "They served for many years across the diocese," he said.

    The diocese has released 11 of the names on the most recent list previously. The new list does not provide details about the alleged abuse. It includes the priests' names and their assigned parishes.

    Many of the priests on the list are also named in lawsuits against the diocese, though not all who have been accused are on the list.

    Monsignor James Lindenmeyer, who served at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Farmington, is accused in a May 2013 lawsuit filed in Coconino County, Ariz., of sexually abusing a minor. His names does not appear on the diocese's list.

    Hammons said the diocese determined whether allegations against the accused priests were credible based on whether a criminal investigation was conducted or if the diocese could determine patterns in the accusations against a clergy member.

    She said the list could expand if the diocese learns of other credible accusations.

    The sole lay person on the list, Candelaria, served as a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine teacher from 1991 to 1992 at Holy Trinity Parish in Flora Vista. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine is similar to Sunday school, Hammons said.

    In 1995, Candelaria was convicted of sexual abuse in Aztec and spent two years in prison.

    He was sentenced in 2009 to 36 years to life for sexual abuse in Denver. The Denver Post reported Candelaria used a church setting to gain access to his victims. While in Denver, he used his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to win the trust of the families of his alleged victims, according to a Denver Post story from 2009.

    Boland's name was one of the 11 that previously had been released. He served as a pastor at St. Mary Parish in Bloomfield in 1987 and as a chaplain at Sacred Heart School in Farmington in 1994, according to the Diocese of Gallup. He also served at other locations in the diocese, which encompasses northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona.

    In February 2009, Boland's case caught the diocese's attention when the Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted considered moving Boland to another parish. Olmsted discovered an article in Boland's file indicating he may have abused children in the past, according to Daily Times archives.

    Cichanowicz's name was also previously released. He was accused of abusing multiple teenage boys while serving as a priest at Christ the King Parish in Shiprock and at St. Michael's Parish in Arizona in the 1980s.

    Cichanowicz later moved to Indiana and left the priesthood. He became a counselor at a clinic there, where he worked with adults and teenagers. He specialized in helping his patients with chemical dependency and addiction, but also counseled them about sexual orientation and sexual dependency issues, according to Daily Times archives.

Images: Brett Candelaria LDS sex crime case

Mormon Sexual Abuse Map

International map of locations where active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perpetrated or allegedly perpetrated sexual abuse or other sex crimes, or where LDS leaders failed or allegedly failed to help abuse survivors.