Former priest put on probation

BLUE EARTH – A former Blue Earth priest was sentenced to probation Monday after pleading guilty to second-degree criminal sexual conduct two weeks ago.

“The sentence that was imposed today was consistent with the plea agreement,” said Philip J. Elbert, attorney for Leo Charles Koppala.

Koppala, 47, had been serving as priest for Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Blue Earth and St. Mary in Winnebago when he was charged, following a June 7 incident in which he allegedly fondled a child while visiting a home where the child was staying.

On Monday, Judge Douglas Richards sentenced Koppala to 36 months in jail but stayed the sentence, as long as Koppala abides by the terms of probation. Richards placed Koppala on supervised probation for a period of up to 25 years.

“He has a 36-month prison sentence hanging over his head,” said prosecutor Troy Timmerman.

Other points of sentencing include: Koppala must serve 31 days in jail, with credit for time served; register as a predatory offender under Minnesota law; provide a DNA sample; have no contact with females under the age of 18 years; comply with a psycho/sexual evaluation and follow the recommendations of the evaluation; if the evaluation recommends treatment or therapy, enroll and complete the program until discharged by his therapist.

In the event Koppala violates probation and goes to prison, 10 years conditional release will apply, Richards said.

“If he violated probation and went to prison, he’d still have another 10 years hanging over his head,” Timmerman clarified.

Koppala was ordered to meet with an adult probation agent after the hearing Monday to complete all necessary requirements.

Richards added that Koppala may appeal the conviction.

“Anybody that’s convicted of a crime can file an appeal,” Timmerman said. “They’ve got 90 days to do that.”

Elbert requested that Koppala’s passport and possessions seized by police during the investigation be returned to his client. Richards said the passport would be returned, but Timmerman asked that the personal property remain in the state’s possession through the appeal process, and Richards agreed.

Elbert also asked whether the order could be amended to no unsupervised contact with minor females.

“The court ordered no contact with females under 18. That will remain in effect until modified by the court,” Richards said.

The case is complicated by the fact that Koppala could return to India.

Koppala is a priest of the Nellore Diocese in South India, where he reportedly helped raise money to support an orphanage, and was serving in the local parishes under the Diocese of Winona, which placed him on administrative leave when he was accused in June.

“Fr. Koppala’s status will change on 3/31 and all connections to the Diocese of Winona will be terminated,” said Joel Hennessy, spokesperson for the Diocese of Winona, in an e-mail Friday.

“We prepare for what happens if he were in the country and we let the federal authorities and his home country deal with what happens there,” Timmerman said.