Charity director could face six months in jail

The 65-year-old director of a Half Moon Bay Catholic charity organization is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 1 in San Mateo Superior Court and will face up to six months in county jail for soliciting a woman to engage in an act of prostitution.

Michael David Niece, who runs The Coastside Catholic Worker, allegedly offered a 35-year-old Half Moon Bay woman $500 for sex when they spoke on the phone Aug. 13, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Niece was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday, Wagstaffe said. The previous arrangement between the court and the counselors was that Niece would face nomore than 10 days in jail and there would be no need for a pre-sentencing report from the county probation department.

However, during Thursday’s hearing, Deputy District Attorney Morris Maya argued that this was not a victimless crime, and that there should be a pre-sentence report as well as no limit on Niece’s sentence. Maya argued that there are two other instances in recent years during which Niece has been accused of inappropriate conduct with other women coming to him for help, and that Niece has not shown remorse for his actions.

Judge Carl Holm agreed with Maya and ordered a pre-sentence report be prepared. He also decided that there will be no 10-day limit on Niece’s sentence, so he now could face up to six months in jail, Wagstaffe said. Niece was given the option of setting aside his plea and continuing with a trial, but he and his attorney William Johnston declined to do so.

The victim, a woman who had previously received help from the charity for several months, was looking for help finding a job when Niece made the offer, according to Wagstaffe. The woman declined and later called Half Moon Bay police, he said.

It was “a very big betrayal of trust,” Maya said.

Police then set up a sting operation and when the woman again called Niece he reiterated his offer, Wagstaffe said. When she accepted they arranged a meeting, and Niece was arrested, he said.

According to the charity’s Web site, The Coastside Catholic Worker was founded in Half Moon Bay in 2000 by Niece and his wife Kathy, and offers assistance, primarily to Coastside agricultural workers and their families, in the form of food, clothing, diapers, blankets and other household items.

“We are not a charity in the traditional sense and the ministry is not just about giving handouts,” the Web site said. “It is about walking with our brothers and sisters in need, trying to live lives of 'active love’ and taking personal responsibility in addressing struggles in life.”

Niece will reappear in court Feb. 1 at 9 a.m. for his sentencing.

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