URBANA – A Catholic priest at the University of Illinois who admitted he acted as a drug dealer last year has been sentenced to the maximum amount of probation for his crime.
Christopher Layden, 34, now of Peoria, was a priest at the Newman Center last summer when UI police learned from an informant that Layden was using and selling cocaine from his residence.
On Thursday, Layden pleaded guilty to a single Class 1 felony count of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, admitting that on Sept. 10, he had 1.9 grams of cocaine in his residence intended for sale.
Layden, who hails from Hoopeston, was ordained a priest in 2001 and studied in Rome for five years. Bishop Daniel Jenky suspended Layden from his duties as a diocesan priest immediately after his arrest. Jenky maintains that neither he nor anyone at Newman knew about Layden's cocaine problem. The suspension is still in effect.
"Bishop Jenky has made no determination at this time as to whether Layden will ever be able to return to active ministry," a release from the diocese said.
Under the terms of a plea agreement negotiated by his attorney, Mark Lipton of Champaign, and Assistant State's Attorney Dan Clifton, Layden was sentenced to four years of probation, the maximum period of probation for that crime. He was also ordered to perform 150 hours of public service in the next year that have to be separate and apart from his work as a priest and pay fines and court costs of $2,500.
He is not allowed to use drugs or consume alcohol except sacramental wine in the course of his priestly duties, Clifton said.
The condition that he receive a substance abuse evaluation and follow recommendations for treatment has already been satisfied, according to Lipton.
"He went into treatment the day he was released from the county jail," Lipton said. Layden was arrested Sept. 10 and released on bond Sept. 11.
Court records said a confidential source working with UI police said he had known Layden since 2007 and used cocaine with him "40 to 50 times" during 2008 in Layden's office in the Newman Center at 604 E. Armory Ave., C, and in Layden's residence at the rectory across the street at 1007 S. Sixth St.
The informant told police that Layden had stored as much as 1½ ounces of cocaine in a locked safe in his room at the rectory. He also told police he had gone to Chicago with Layden seven times between February and May 2008 to buy cocaine.
Police said at the time of his arrest, they didn't believe Layden was selling cocaine to other UI students besides the informant who was working with them. And Clifton said Thursday he knew of no other customers.
Lipton said Layden received his treatment for cocaine addiction at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at the Proctor Hospital in Peoria, the same place former UI basketball player Jamar Smith – also a Lipton client – went to deal with his alcoholism.
Lipton said Layden completed the inpatient and aftercare portions of his treatment and is now in continuing care.
On Lipton's advice, Layden declined to answer questions Thursday.
But Lipton said his client – who was made the butt of jokes on "Saturday Night Live" within days of his arrest – is doing well. He declined to say what Layden is doing now.
"I think he obviously takes all this very seriously and is dedicated to recovery. He's done everything he's supposed to do. He's certainly cognizant of the fact that prison was a very real possibility," Lipton said.
In return for Layden's guilty plea, accepted by Judge Harry Clem, Clifton agreed to dismiss three other more serious counts of delivery of cocaine and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance that carried mandatory prison terms upon conviction.
State's Attorney Julia Rietz said the case was resolved the same as it would have been for any first-time offender who admitted guilt and had taken steps to address an addiction.
"Should I treat him more harshly because he's a priest?" she said.
Lipton said Layden feels "tremendous remorse and recognizes what a serious problem he has."
"He has a lot of support among students on campus. A lot of people love him. He's a very personable person. He kept in touch with my office throughout the case. Those are all indicative of somebody where the prognosis is excellent. I hope the diocese keeps him in some capacity," Lipton said.