A Catholic priest was found guilty Friday in federal court of sexually assaulting a woman aboard a flight from Philadelphia to LAX.
A federal jury found Father Marcelo De Jesumaria, who is based out of Arrowhead, California, guilty of abusive sexual contact on the US Airways flight to Los Angeles last August.
The FBI told the NBC4 I-Team that a female passenger, identified in legal documents only as "BD," woke up during the flight to find the priest’s "hands on her breast, groin, and buttocks."
De Jesumaria had previously served in the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, but was removed from the ministry in November when the allegations against him surfaced, the diocese said in an emailed statement. He is a member of the Chicago-based Congregation of the Resurrection, which will determine his future in the priesthood, the statement said.
Last year, the NBC4 I-Team exposed the growing problem of sexual assaults reported aboard airplanes. The FBI told NBC4 that most of the assaults happen on red-eye flights when the cabin is dark and the victims are asleep or dozing off.
The FBI urges anyone who is assaulted aboard a plane to immediately report it to the flight crew while still in the air.
"Criminal activity aboard an aircraft that is reported several days or weeks after an incident occurs presents greater challenges for investigators," said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.
In the US Airways incident, FBI agents met De Jesumaria at the gate, when the plane landed last August. They gathered enough evidence to indict him in October.
Friday, after a three-day trial in federal court, a jury found De Jesumaria guilty of abusive sexual contact, which is defined as "the intentional touching… of the groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks of any person with the intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade and arouse."
De Jesumaria will be sentenced Aug. 24. He faces a two-year statutory maximum sentence.
NBC4 asked the Diocese of San Bernardino for comment and they emailed this statement:
"The Diocese of San Bernardino considers the actions alleged of Father De Jesumaria in the federal indictment to be sinful and unlawful. We removed him from ministry in the diocese immediately after we became aware of this allegation in November and we are deeply regretful of any harm that may have occurred as a result of his actions. He belongs to a Chicago-based religious order, the Congregation of the Resurrection, that will determine the future of his priesthood."