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tv   NBC Bay Area We Investigate  NBC  July 16, 2022 6:30pm-7:00pm PDT

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we investigate why local diocese say it's safe to let them continue their ministry. donald duffy magilligan: those are words written on a piece of paper by somebody who's trying to wring settlement money out of the catholic church. mark staley: this is really just part of the healing process. this is not about any kind of financial gain. audrey: plus, what lies beneath. we investigate potentially toxic waste that's been lurking in the soil in san francisco for more than a century. audrey: good evening. i'm audrey asistio, and thank you for joining us for this "nbc bay area investigative special." tonight, hundreds of new allegations against northern california priests, including some who still work here in the bay area. they're accused of sexually abusing children, and dozens are being publicly named for the very first time. investigative reporter candice nguyen has the story you'll see only on "nbc bay area."
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candice nguyen: for the past eight months, we have pored through more than a hundred lawsuits and interviewed accusers and their advocates across the state. the claims have proven to be a trove of new information that show what we previously knew about the scandal is likely just the tip of the iceberg. candice: for the first time in more than 40 years. rick pfisterer: i haven't been back since i was in eighth grade. candice: rick pfisterer walks down the castro valley sidewalk where his grandmother lived in this orange house and prayed just across the street at our lady of grace. rick: this church meant everything to my grandma. candice: here lie his childhood memories and his nightmares that rick pfisterer says began in the fourth grade. rick: i was an altar boy. the man raped me. he physically raped me in that house right over here. physically took me in there. he did god-awful things.
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candice: the abuse by father robert ponciroli continued for more than a year, pfisterer says. when he finally decided to tell someone, that someone was going to be his own father. rick: the priest had gotten my home phone and talked to my dad prior to me gettin' home and tellin' him what was going on, and i got beat for "lying" to him, and so i never said another word to anybody. candice: pfisterer has now joined more than 700 californians suing catholic institutions across the state, accusing priests and other church employees of sexually abusing them as children and teens, their legal action enabled by a recent state law that opened a three-year look back window, allowing new lawsuits to proceed in court that are based on older child sex abuse claims normally barred by the statute of limitations. rick simmons: i would expect that we're gonna see more than a thousand cases by the end of this. candice: east bay attorney rick simmons represents
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pfisterer in his civil suit, but he's also co-managing more than 200 combined clergy abuse cases filed in northern california so far. bishops and their attorneys are pushing back against the law, arguing the lookback window is unconstitutional and could be financially devastating for catholic diocese. after failed attempts in state courts to overturn the law, the bishops petitioned the u.s. supreme court in april to review the case, but the court declined. rick: they think they're the victim, but it's the kids who spent their entire life carrying this scar and burden. raj mathai: in an "nbc bay area" exclusive-- candice: our own investigation into the claims reveals a vast number of new allegations indicating the scandal is far from over. the cases shed new light on some of the most prolific abusers in northern california like ponciroli, previously accused of abusing dozens of children in the '70s and '80s, according to multiple lawsuits and internal church records, and
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notorious, defrocked, east bay priest and convicted sex offender stephen kiesle, now facing more than a dozen new abuse allegations. mark staley: i remember meeting him in mass as an altar boy. candice: the wave of lawsuits is also revealing dozens of new names, northern california priests and church officials facing sex-abuse allegations for the very first time, like now-deceased san leandro priest father michael mcginty, who, former altar boy mark staley says, choked and sexually abused him when he was eight or nine years old. staley says he repressed the memory until it recently surfaced in therapy. mark: this is really just part of the healing process. this is not about any kind of financial gain. candice: staley says, while he was an altar boy, he was summoned to the furious priest's office for laughing during mass. mark: and the next thing i remember is his hands here on my throat, and i can recall the passing out, and when i woke, i
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was looking down, and i could see the top of his head. candice: was father mcginty ever held accountable? mark: not that i know of. no, no, that's part of the pain. i was made to feel guilty, and i was kind of put in my own prison. candice: we've reviewed nearly 140 recent clergy-abuse lawsuits filed in northern california with allegations ranging from fondling to outright rape. of the 91 clergy and church employees named, nearly half, our investigation found, have never been publicly accused before, like deceased san francisco priest martin greenlaw, who pleaded guilty to embezzling from the church in the '90s, now accused of forcing an eight-year-old boy to perform oral sex, or father jesus prieto, who also passed away, accused of sexually assaulting a student about a hundred times at an oakland school in the '60s. we reached out to every bay area diocese.
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they told us they take abuse claims seriously and have support services for potential victims, but they mostly declined to comment on specific cases because of the pending lawsuits. san francisco and santa rosa, which have active priests facing new accusations, say their independent review boards are looking into the allegations, but so far stand behind those priests. candice: have you ever shared your story publicly like this before? rick: no, my wife didn't find out until a year ago, and we've been married 30-plus years. she's my savior. candice: now pfisterer says he's ready to put his torment behind him, something even father ponciroli's death, more than a decade ago, couldn't do. rick: i tried to o.d. my whole life until i met my wife. i can't outrun the memories, so i might as well stand up to him. candice: what do you want out of all of this?
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rick: i want whoever else is hurting to be able to find peace. audrey: so, what about those newly accused priests who continue to work here in the bay area? up next, candice continues her investigation to find out why two local dioceses say it's safe for those priests to remain in ministry. ♪♪♪ mornings are our time, and i couldn't let stiff joints slow me down. so i started taking osteo bi-flex every day because it has joint shield... ...clinically shown to improve joint comfort within 7 days. osteo bi-flex - available at your local retailer and club. a new chevy is the smart way to hit the open road this summer. the smart way to road trip—. ♪♪ and seek new adventures. ♪♪ go a little farther this summer in a new chevy.
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audrey: problem priests posing a danger in the past and possibly the present. we just showed you a wave of new lawsuits washing over catholic institutions across the state, and investigative reporter duckduckgo: candice nguyen discovered some of those accused priests are continuing to minister, at least four right here in the bay area. candice: there's concern some of these priests still pose a risk to communities now, but as we found, two bay area diocese say differently, that their internal investigations have found, so far, keeping those priests in ministry is safe. candice: in rural marin county, off 101, down this long, private road, sits saint vincent's school for boys, founded as a haven for children from troubled homes. it's not a place they just visit. they live here away from family, and according to recent lawsuits, some say they were sexually abused and trafficked
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by predator priests while living there in decades past. the suits allege years of abuse of boys in both the '60s and '80s. the accusations stretched beyond school walls to remote sonoma county, a program called cyo summer camp, nestled deep in the forest. one lawsuit alleges priests lured saint vincent's boys there, gave them booze, and forced them to perform sex acts with them and each other, ranging from fondling, to group sex. it's some of these haunting allegations from the '80s that brought southern california attorney michael carney north to the san francisco public library on a hunt of sorts for information. within the library stacks is a collection of catholic directories, sort of like yearbooks for priests and church officials that go back decades. michael carney: as you look through the percentages of men in these sort of photos here who have allegations, credible allegations, it's shocking. candice: carney says his firm alone has more than 300 northern california clergy-abuse cases
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they're investigating or getting ready to file. the cases stem from a recent state law opening a three-year window for californians to file child sex abuse lawsuits based on older claims. for many of the alleged perpetrators, our investigative unit found it's the first time they're being accused of abusing children. michael: we are looking at anywhere from 50 to 100 priests or clergymen who have not yet been identified with a public allegation, and we were able to find at least one photo of mr. david ghiorso. father david ghiorso: the lord be with you. candice: father david ghiorso is one of the priests now accused of participating in some of the abuse alleged at saint vincent's and cyo camp during the '80s and one of at least four newly accused priests still actively working in the bay area. he's currently employed by the san francisco archdiocese as a pastor at saint charles parish in san carlos and st. matthias parish in redwood city.
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michael: and so the name father david ghiorso is a name that is of interest to us and specifically a name that's of interest to us in three separate clients's cases. candice: three separate plaintiffs not represented by carney have already filed lawsuits accusing the priest of sexually abusing them as children while attending saint vincent's. donald duffy magilligan: david ghiorso never abused anybody. candice: donald magilligan has known father ghiorso for ten years, he says, and considers him a friend. he's now representing the priest, saying the damning allegations in the lawsuits are false. donald: those are words written on a piece of paper by somebody who's trying to wring settlement money out of the catholic church. candice: six different people are currently accusing father ghiorso of abuse when they were children. are you saying none of them should be believed? donald: what i'm tellin' you is "six times zero is zero." the only allegations that we're aware of are the three that had been filed in court. candice: why are you saying that these allegations are meritless?
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donald: well, we're not gonna try our case in the media. i admit to you it would be a great story for you if you heard what the evidence was in this case, but we're gonna try this case in front of a jury. male: let us pray. candice: father ghiorso isn't the only priest currently working within the archdiocese, facing new abuse allegations. father michael mahoney: the lord be with you. candice: father michael mahoney, seen here at his burlingame parish, our lady of angels, is accused in a lawsuit of molesting a second-grade boy in the '80s. mahoney declined to comment when we reached him by phone. monsignor michael harriman: you go to a mass at a church-- candice: then there's monsignor michael harriman, who retired from san francisco's saint cecilia's in 2017, but continues to work as a priest according to the archdiocese. like father ghiorso, he also worked at saint vincent's and cyo camp during the '80s, according to our review of catholic directories. the priest is now accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing children at the boy's home during his time there.
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candice: hi, my name is candice nguyen. i'm with "nbc bay area." i'm trying to reach monsignor michael harriman. candice: after trying multiple times to reach him by phone, we spoke with harriman at his burlingame home. monsignor harriman: yes. candice: hi, monsignor harriman? candice nguyen here with "nbc bay area." new lawsuits allege child sex abuse, including sex trafficking at saint vincent's school for boys while you were there. are you aware of these claims? monsignor harriman: yes, i am, and there's been an investigation. i've been proven innocent. candice: would you like to sit down with us for a full interview, where we can ask all of our questions? monsignor harriman: not at this time. i'd have to check with the diocese on that. candice: the archdiocese declined multiple interview requests for the story but said in a statement that the three accused priests were placed on leave pending internal reviews, but all three men were soon returned to ministry after those reviews did not sustain the allegations, a spokesperson told us. the diocese called all three men faithful and highly respected pastors and said, "it would have been an injustice to them and
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those they serve to keep them out of public ministry," after the determination of their review board. mary alexander: survivors do not lie. candice: mary alexander is a bay area attorney who recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of a potential victim alleging childhood sexual abuse at the hands of yet another active bay area priest working under the diocese of santa rosa. monsignor james pulskamp: in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit-- candice: star of the valley pastor monsignor james pulskamp is accused of molesting a child in the '70s at another home for traumatized youth, the hanna boys center in sonoma. it's been another major hot spot for sex abuse allegations in recent years. mary: because they are more vulnerable, that they become prey for the priests and people who work there. candice: we reached out to monsignor pulskamp directly but never heard back. we did get a response from santa rosa bishop robert vasa. he declined our interview request but said in a statement
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he finds it difficult to give the allegation any credence given the priest's stellar reputation over the past 50 years. the bishop said pulskamp remains in ministry after an internal review board recommended that no action be taken against the priest. mary: he should be put on administrative leave. there shouldn't be access to children. candice: as we've learned in our years of covering clergy abuse, it can take decades for survivors to come forward. none of the people accusing these four active priests were ready to speak with us publicly yet. plaintiffs's attorneys expect a flurry of new lawsuits by december 31 when this three-year window closes, and we'll be here to report on any new allegations when they come in. candice nguyen, nbc bay area news. audrey: candice, thank you. coming up, we dig in a different direction to find out what lies beneath. we investigate potential toxic waste in san francisco for more than a century ago now causing concern. stay with us.
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audrey: under san francisco's picturesque waterfront lies a hidden legacy that some fear could be a ticking, toxic time bomb. it's the byproduct of 19th century technology left in the soil beneath what are now neighborhoods, stores, even a school. here's nbc bay area investigative reporter jaxon van derbeken. dan clarke: the marina of san francisco is one of the best
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areas you could possibly live in. jaxon van derbeken: but dan clarke wondered for years about what was in these strange rocks he found in his yard until he got a visit from pg&e. dan: pg&e came into the neighborhood and said they were looking to investigate these manufactured gas plants to see if there was any possible problem with them. jaxon: that was in 2010, when clarke learned those rocks outside his home on north point street were waste from this nine-acre gas manufacturing plant that had been run by san francisco gas light company, later, pg&e. this 19th century photo shows that plant and another one nearby that today is the site of marina middle school. the tanks held the invisible gas made by heating oil and coal that was used to warm and light homes. it was inherently a dirty operation. dan: the whole plant was the nightmare. my home sat between some of the buildings that did the scrubbing, the cleaning of the gas.
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jaxon: along with the rocks, the plants left black, tar-like goo, and today the toxic residue from that goo still bubbles up at this boomed-off part of this small craft harbor in the marina near marina green. allen hatheway: the nature of the gas is toxic. jaxon: geological engineer allen hatheway has spent decades documenting tens of thousands of old gas manufacturing sites in the u.s. he says they all have one thing in common. allen: a public health threat. for every gas works that existed, there was a gas works dump, and those are dangerous today. jaxon: but pg&e says the material from the 42 sites across its territory doesn't pose a risk because it's buried. courts have nonetheless found it's liable to clean up the waste left by plants pg&e acquired over the years, all of which were shut down by the 1950s. the biggest concern is polycyclic, aromatic hydrocarbons, a class of chemicals
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tied to cancer and birth defects. pg&e's tests show levels in the marina that far exceed federal standards. the worry is that vapors can seep into homes. so far, the state says, 30 properties have either been cleaned or had vapor vents installed, but clarke sued to force pg&e to account for a 33-block area of the marina, and the judge in that case recently found pg&e potentially liable for this site in fisherman's wharf, where the argonaut hotel stands. in a statement, pg&e told us there's no reason for any health concern, but it is testing and cleaning the sites to satisfy today's regulatory standards and to meet its public safety and environmental responsibilities. while it denied it was liable for the fisherman's wharf site, pg&e says it respects the recent court ruling that it may have some responsibility for cleanup. it says it's working to evaluate the site. despite victories in court, clarke says the battle has taken a toll.
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dan: i was just exhausted. it was--this was and still is an exhausting process. they fight you every inch of the way. jaxon: clarke ended up selling his home to pg&e, which as many as a dozen of his former neighbors have also done. pg&e recently admitted to federal regulators it could take up to a half-billion dollars more to complete cleanup of the 42 sites, the bill mostly footed by rate payers. jaxon van derbeken, nbc bay area news. audrey: still ahead, we search for hidden gems in the housing market and tell you how to find some secret deals. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ my tribe has lived on this land for 12,000 years. we call it oleyumi. you call it california. our land, our culture, our people
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once expansive, now whittled down to a small community. only one proposition supports california tribes like ours. while providing hundreds of millions in yearly funding to finally address homelessness in california. vote yes on 27. tax online sports betting and protect tribal sovereignty and help californians that are hurting the most.
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audrey: it's a problem that affects us all, california's housing crisis. we all know nearly every bay area home up for sale typically and help californians goes for over asking, but there's a secret world of off-market listings where we found some hidden deals. find out how you can find them as well. watch our investigative streaming series, "overpriced, overwhelmed, over it," right now on your roku, amazon fire tv, or apple tv, by downloading the nbc bay area app, or you could go to and if you have a story for our investigative unit, call 888-996-tips, or visit our website,
6:58 pm well, that does it for us this evening. thank you for joining me for a look at some of our in-depth reporting here on nbc bay area, where we investigate. i'm audrey asistio. have a good rest of your weekend. ♪♪♪ cc by aberdeen captioning 1-800-688-6621 ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ want more from your vitamins? get more with nature's bounty. from the first-ever triple action sleep supplement. to daily digestive support. to more wellness solutions every day. get more with nature's bounty. a new chevy is the smart way
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to hit the open road this summer. the smart way to road trip—. ♪♪ and seek new adventures. ♪♪ go a little farther this summer in a new chevy. find new get up and go. find new roads. enjoy the open road and make no monthly payments for the rest of summer on all 2022 equinox models. plus, get 0% financing when you finance with gm financial. ♪♪ find new roads at your local chevy dealer. announcer: america's local tv and radio stations are there for us when we need them most. as our neighbors, they educate, help and inspire us. tonight, we honor station's incredible public service efforts from across the country,
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the celebration of service to america awards, featuring leadership award recipients, patti labelle and josé andrés, plus other stars. now, please welcome access hollywood host and syndicated radio personality, mario lopez. mario lopez: thank you, thank you, and good evening everyone, and welcome to the 23rd celebration of service to america awards. tonight, of course, we are going to join the nab leadership foundation and our generous sponsors in honoring broadcasters' contributions across the nation. and we have with us this evening a remarkable group of honorees from raising funds for local organizations and causes to collecting items for families in need and providing critical information to listeners and viewers. these broadcasters display an unwavering commitment to their communities, and that is so very important, and i'm proud to be among them. we encourage you to join the conversation on social using the #staawards.


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