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Catholic priest, former Crespi High employee, arrested on sex abuse allegations in Florida

March 15, 2011 |  3:13 pm

 A Roman Catholic priest who formerly worked at Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino has been arrested in Florida on 11 counts of sexual abuse involving a 14-year-old boy.

Father William Wert had previously been arrested on sex-related charges in Washington, D.C., in 2007.

According to a Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department affidavit, Wert, 54, was arrested in Venice, Fla., on Feb. 1 after the alleged victim and his father told authorities that Wert had been having a sexual relationship with the boy since September.

William WertAfter reviewing evidence that included text messages, computer chats and a hotel receipt, authorities charged Wert with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious behavior with a minor. Further investigation led to nine other sex-related counts, all allegedly involving the same victim, according to a sheriff’s spokeswoman, Sarah Kenniff. Detectives “were looking to see if there were any other local victims,” but no further charges had been filed, she said. The allegations against him include fondling, oral sex and attempted anal sex.

Wert is being held in Sarasota County Jail on $190,000 bond.

He worked at Crespi in 1987 and again from 1993 until 1999, and occasionally ministered at Our Lady of Grace Church, according to a notice that appeared in the Our Lady of Grace parish bulletin in 2007, when he was arrested in Washington. According to news accounts, that arrest was for touching a 14-year-old boy on the thigh. Initially charged with a sex offense, he was convicted of assault and sentenced to 15 days in jail.

According to Joelle Castaix of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Wert served as campus ministry director at Crespi. He also was named interim athletic director for a period in 1994.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Tod Tamberg, said no allegations have surfaced from Wert’s time in Encino, but that parishioners would be notified this weekend about the charges against him.

Calls to Crespi and Wert’s attorney in Florida were not immediately returned.

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-- Mitchell Landsberg

Photo: William Wert. Credit: Sarasota County Sheriff's Office

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