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Priest sentenced for aiding Salvadoran gangs

September 5, 2014

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — A Spanish priest has been freed on probation after being sentenced to 30 months in prison for aiding imprisoned gang members by smuggling contraband and seeking favorable treatment for them.

The Rev. Antonio Rodriguez Tercero was released from custody on Thursday after the sentencing and will serve two years’ probation, according to the prosecutor’s office, an option in El Salvador when a sentence is less than three years,

Prosecutors say Rodriguez, known as “Father Tony,” lobbied against blocking cellphone signals in prison, where inmates often make extortion calls. He also managed the transfer of inmates out of maximum security and smuggled in cellphones, televisions, jewelry and other prohibited items.

Attorney General Luis Martinez said the release occurred when Rodriguez agreed to cooperate by confessing and giving information to authorities. Rodriguez’s parish is in a low-income neighborhood and has programs aimed at rehabilitating gang members.

His supporters gathered outside the courthouse cheering his release with slogans and fireworks.

“I’m an innocent man who has worked for peace with my congregation,” Rodriguez said in a brief statement outside, adding that he will take a two-year leave. “I’m not the security problem in this country. There are bigger security problems.”

His sentence says he cannot have contact with the gangs.

El Salvador has had one of the world’s highest homicide rates, which dropped dramatically when the country’s two major gangs negotiated a truce in 2012. The agreement has since fallen apart and violence is on the rise again.

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