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A former Margate priest may spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading no contest to repeatedly drugging and molesting an underaged South Florida boy.
An attorney for Neil Doherty, 69, accepted a plea deal for a reduced sentence on charges the clergyman fondled a Broward boy who lived across the street from the St. Vincent Catholic Church in Margate.
The Sun Sentinel reports Doherty faces up to 15 years in prison on several criminal charges when convicted, including two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation on a minor.
The victim, now a 26-year-old living outside of Florida, was allegedly abused by Doherty in the 1990s after the priest initially invited the child to his house for what the presiding judge called "some version of confession," according to the Miami Herald.
The victim's attorney Jeff Herman told Reuters that while the boy was in the house, "Father Doherty gave him a soda to drink, and he drank the soda not knowing it was laced with drugs. [The victim] passed out and when he woke up he was being sodomized."
The victim allegedly developed a drug problem fed by cash gifts from the priest as the abuse continued, according to the Herald.
Though the case marks the first criminal charges against Doherty, it is not the first time the church has been sued on his behalf. According to public records, Doherty has been named in at least two lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Miami alleging sex crimes against minors, and Herman told the Miami Herald he has settled at least 24 child sex abuse cases involving Doherty. A jury last year concluded one suit involving Doherty by awarding $100 million to a victim, which according to Reuters is among the largest awards ever granted in the United States in a case of sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest.
Several of the lawsuits naming Doherty also mention former Miami priest Rolando Garcia, who recently resigned from his pastoral post at the St. Agatha Catholic Church in November over allegations he molested young boys in the 1980s and 1990s.
Doherty's attorney David Bogenschutz told Reuters the priest pled no contest because "he's getting sicker and tireder and older. At this point it was in his best interest."
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