A disgraced Catholic priest who led a Los Banos parish for five years before he was caught with child pornography is serving his sentence behind bars at the John Latorraca Correctional Facility in Merced County, the Sheriff’s Office confirmed Tuesday.
The Rev. Robert E. Gamel, former lead priest of St. Joseph Church in Los Banos, surrendered to the sheriff’s office Monday to begin his 11-month jail sentence, Capt. Greg Sullivan confirmed to the Merced Sun-Star.
Gamel, 66, pleaded guilty in March to a felony count of possession of child pornography. He was sentenced in May to serve 11 months in jail but was expected to ask the sheriff’s office to convert his jail time to an alternative program.
While it was unclear Tuesday whether Gamel actually made such a request, the sheriff’s office told the Sun-Star that Gamel would spend his sentence in custody.
On Wednesday, Gamel appeared in court during a hearing for a procedural modification to his terms of probation. Gamel’s lawyer wasn’t present, so the hearing was continued to July 15, Deputy District Attorney Travis Colby said.
Commonly known around Los Banos as “Father Bob,” Gamel headed the St. Joseph parish for about five years before his removal in December 2014. He was placed on administrative leave after first told Los Banos police that Gamel had sought and found on the Internet a nude photograph of a teenage boy from the Los Banos parish, according to court records.
With good-behavior credits and other factors, Gamel is expected to be released from jail on Dec. 11, Sullivan told the Sun-Star.
Gamel also is required to register as a sex offender for life and will spend at least four years on probation, according to the ruling handed down in May by Judge Harry L. Jacobs. The reverend avoided a potential three-year state prison sentence. Prosecutors pushed for the maximum sentence in the case but had said it was unlikely as Gamel has no prior criminal history.
Gamel’s attorney, Roger Litman, told the Sun-Star his client regretted his crime.
“He expressed his remorse to the probation officer. He expressed his remorse to the judge,” Litman said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “And the (district attorney) may disagree, but he also expressed his remorse to the (police) officers that interviewed him.”
Travis Colby, the Merced County deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, praised the investigation led by Detective Sgt. Ivan Mendez and the Los Banos Police Department.
“This matter resolved in an expeditious manner in large part due to the Los Banos Police Department putting the case together as they did,” Colby said Tuesday.
Church officials have said they would conduct a “canonical investigation” but said their inquiry was a personnel matter and would be kept confidential until the investigation concludes.
Gamel’s case was the first in what has become a series of high-profile community leaders facing serious legal troubles in recent years.
Last year, high school teacher Gary Bettencourt was arrested and charged with having sexual relationships with teenage students. He has pleaded not guilty.
In April, Dominic Falasco, a Los Banos Unified School Board trustee and prominent defense attorney, was arrested on a drug possession allegation. Falasco has denied wrongdoing.
Dusty E. Norris, a former Los Banos high school teacher turned police officer, was arrested in May and charged with having sexual relationships with at least two teenage students. He also has pleaded not guilty.
This story has been updated with corrected information regarding the “canonical investigation and when Gamel was placed on administrative leave.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482