Leader of charity sentenced to 10 days for sex solicitation

The Half Moon Bay charity chief who admitted to soliciting sex from a woman seeking help from his organization will spend 10 days behind bars and be on two probation for two years, a judge ruled Friday.

“You’re like those who commit embezzlement from an employer. You violated the trust of the people you work with and the people who depend on you,” Judge Carl Holm told 65-year-old Michael Niece.

Holm offered Niece the option of serving his sentence on weekends through the Sheriff’s Office work program, but Niece’s attorney, William Johnston, said Niece’s family wanted to get the matter behind them. Niece will report to the men’s jail tonight.

San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Morris Maya had sought 90 days in the case.

Niece and his wife founded Coastside Catholic Worker in 2000 and run it out of their Kelly Avenue home. The nonprofit is not directly affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

Holm said he took Niece’s good works, age, fragile health and lack of criminal history into account when handing down the sentence.

Niece pleaded no contest on Dec. 7 to one misdemeanor count of solicitation of an act of prostitution. The charge stems from an Aug. 14 incident in which a 35-year-old woman came to Niece seeking help with private school tuition for her child and Niece offered her $500 for sex, according to prosecutors.

The woman called police, who set up and recorded a phonecall between her and Niece. The charity director repeated his offer and set up a rendezvous with the woman near a Half Moon Bay taco stand.

Half Moon Bay police cited and released Niece when he showed up to meet the woman. Prosecutors said he had laid out a bed in the back of his van and had a sex toy in his pocket.

Johnston told the judge Friday that while Niece may have been “desperately groping for some human contact and comfort,” he did not have any money with him and likely didn’t know exactly what he wanted. He said the arrest was the most devastating thing to ever happen to Niece.

Probation Officer Nancy Carter said she recommended the 10-day sentence based on Niece’s decision to quickly get into therapy after his arrest and his continuing counseling.

The victim, who did not come to court, has had her confidence in people shaken by the incident, Maya said.

“She was confused that someone the community held out as a beacon of charity would do this,” he said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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