Ex-youth minister gets 27 years for sex with minor

A former youth minister at St. Thomas More Catholic High School was sentenced Friday to 27 years in federal prison for engaging in sexual activity with a minor.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth E. Foote also ordered Eric Michael Manuel to undergo 15 years of supervision after he’s released.

“I see before me a true tragedy,” Foote said.

Manuel, 23, was led away by U.S. marshals as his mother, father and other members of his family wept.

Foote said she would recommend that Manuel serve his sentence near the Federal Medical Center Deven, located in Massachusetts, which provides treatment for pedophiles.

Foote said the federal sentencing guideline for the charge Manuel pleaded guilty to in October — coercing a minor to engage in criminal sexual acts — was in the 292-month to 365-month range.

Foote said she weighed different factors in deciding how long Manuel would spend in prison, including his potential and talents and the fact that he had no criminal record before his 2011 arrest. She said she also considered his failings — that he preyed on children under his tutelage at St. Thomas More and the psychological hold he had over them.

Manuel, Foote said, was “every parent’s nightmare.”

Federal prosecutor Luke Walker said there were sexual images of more than 100 boys on Manuel’s cellphone and that he had sex with two boys.

Manuel was charged in a 20-count indictment in January 2012. Two charges alleged he had sex with one boy, while the remaining 18 counts accused Manuel of producing pornography with 18 minors. After the sentence was announced Friday, Foote dropped the 19 remaining charges.

Manuel was arrested in December 2011 after a mother in Kaplan found sexually explicit images on her son’s cellphone.

Kimberly Manuel, the defendant’s mother, who is a teacher at St. Thomas More, said her son attended Catholic schools all his life and that he was a eucharistic minister who taught confirmation classes. She said he studied briefly at St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington before heading to state colleges in Eunice and Lafayette.

She described him growing up as a straight-A student who even in high school went to bed early and didn’t drink. That, she said, was before he started taking Vyvanse, a drug that is sometimes prescribed for youths with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Eric Manuel worked at St. Thomas More while attending college.

John Vincent Listi, director of campus ministry at St. Thomas More from 2004 until he became a financial representative in 2011, said Manuel was being groomed to take over the high school’s ministry.

Listi also said Manuel was a gifted video producer who was sought after by St. Thomas More athletic coaches who wanted him to film motivational video for the school’s teams.

“He had a lot of gifts, a lot of charisma,” Listi said. “We identified him as someone we wanted to cultivate. … At no time was there any concern on my part about any deviant behavior.”

In 2011, Manuel changed, witnesses said.

Four witnesses at the sentencing hearing Friday said they noticed Manuel went through a psychological and physical change after January 2011.

Manuel’s attorney, Randal McCann, said that was no coincidence. He said the changes e_SEnD including sullen mood, antisocial behavior, drinking alcohol, tattoos, body piercings e_SEnD coincided with Manuel’s prescription for Vyvanse.

“My wife and I could not figure it out,” Neal Manuel, the defendant’s father, testified. “He was not the son we raised.”

Foote said she was not convinced the drug was responsible for Manuel’s actions, and that the “psychological coercion” he used to manipulate the youths is “in this court’s mind, a real and serious threat.”