Charity chief charged in sex scandal

Authorities said a Half Moon Bay charity director caught in a sting operation and charged with offering a job-seeker $500 for sex has faced similar accusations in the past.

Last year, a woman told Half Moon Bay police that after asking for assistance from the nonprofit Coastside Catholic Worker group, director Michael Niece allegedly told her she would first have to submit to “touch therapy,” according to Half Moon Bay police Capt. Michael O’Malley.

In 2003, a teenage girl told authorities she felt uncomfortable while Niece was allegedly giving her a back rub, O’Malley said.

Police at the time could not find evidence to support arresting Niece, but forwarded the complaints to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, O’Malley said. Prosecutors are expected to re-examine the complaints in light of Niece’s current charge, O’Malley said.

Niece’s attorney appeared in court on his behalf Tuesday to enter a not-guilty plea to one count of solicitation of an act of prostitution. The charge stems from an Aug. 14 incident in which a 35-year-old woman told police she came to Niece seeking job assistance and was allegedly offered money for sex, said Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Coastside Catholic Worker, which Niece runs with his wife out of their home, previously provided the woman with diapers and food, Wagstaffe said.

“This was somebody who was in a vulnerable position needing help and had previously been able to trust this organization, and this trust was betrayed,” Wagstaffe said.

The woman called police, who set up and recorded a phone call between the woman and Niece. The charity director allegedly repeated his offer and the woman then set up a meeting with him in Half Moon Bay, Wagstaffe said.

“Indeed, he did show up with a van,” Wagstaffe said. “The police arrested him, searched the vehicle and found a sex toy in the vehicle.”

Niece was cited and released after giving a statement to police. Wagstaffe declined to discuss Niece’s statement.

An outgoing message at the Nieces’ Kelly Avenue home in Half Moon Bay tells callers the couple is on a pilgrimage to Italy until the end of the month. Niece’s attorney, William Johnston, did not return calls for comment.

The couple founded the organization in 2000 to provide aid to the poor, according to Coastside Catholic Worker’s Web site. The Catholic Worker Movement was founded by pacifists Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the 1930s and is not directly affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

tbarak@examiner.com

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