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Former priest pleads guilty to sexually abusing kids in Fargo area

Fernando Sayasaya appears in a preliminary hearing Feb. 14, 2018, in Cass County District Court. Forum file photo

FARGO — A former Catholic priest pleaded guilty on Thursday, May 17, to two felony counts of gross sexual imposition stemming from accusations that he sexually abused two boys in the 1990s while assigned to churches in Fargo and West Fargo.

Fernando Sayasaya changed his plea on the two counts during a Thursday afternoon dispositional conference, according to court documents. He previously pleaded not guilty to the charges, both Class B felonies, at a Feb. 14 hearing.

He'll be sentenced at a later date. Each count against Sayasaya carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Sayasaya was returned to Fargo last December, concluding a long process to bring the former priest back to North Dakota to face criminal charges.

He previously served as associate pastor at St. Mary's Cathedral in Fargo and Blessed Sacrament in West Fargo, but was removed from his duties in the Fargo Diocese in August 1998 after two brothers accused him of sexually abusing them.

The criminal charges allege Sayasaya sexually touched two boys under the age of 15 on more than one occasion. Victims told police that Sayasaya would touch or attempt to touch their penises and other private parts when they visited his apartment, and one of the boys told police that the man showed pornographic movies and served him alcohol.

Sayasaya was charged in 2002 in Cass County District Court with the two felony counts, with the alleged crimes dating back to Dec. 1, 1997. A federal indictment was returned on him in January 2003 after he failed to return to the U.S. following a visit to the Philippines in late 1998.

Authorities there arrested Saysaya late last year.