Investigative reporter Jim Mustian reported exclusively that the FBI has opened a sweeping probe into sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans, marking a rare federal foray into such a case, looking specifically at whether priests took children across state lines to molest them.

Mustian’s AP scoop, based on law enforcement authorities and others familiar with the probe, marked a major shift in strategy for federal authorities, who have rarely opened investigations into the Catholic clergy abuse scandals, particularly cases built around the Mann Act, a century-old, anti-sex trafficking law that prohibits taking anyone across state lines for illicit sex. Mann Act violations notably have no statute of limitations.

Detailed reporting by Mustian, a New York-based investigative reporter, found that many of the cases the FBI is probing in New Orleans allege abuse by clergy during out-of-state trips, including to Mississippi camps or amusement parks in Texas and Florida.

The federal investigation could uncover a trove of secret church documents on abuse cases. Those documents could also include more details about another major story that Mustian broke in 2020 — about the unusual relationship between the New Orleans archdiocese and the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. While the Saints say they only assisted in public relations messaging during the archdiocese’s clergy abuse scandals, attorneys for those suing the church have alleged that Saints officials joined in the church’s “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.”

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Members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests,from left, Kevin Bourgeois, John Gianoli, Richard Windmann and John Anderson, hold signs as they speak with journalists outside the New Orleans Saints training facility in Metairie, La., Jan. 29, 2020. The signs “Aymond Must Go!” refer to New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, while Gianoli holds a sign asking for statute of limitations reform; he says he was a child when he was abused and didn’t report the abuse until years later. Attorneys representing victims of alleged abuse claim that Saints officials joined in the church’s “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.”

AP Photo / Matthew Hinton

Mustian’s latest exclusive, accompanied by photos and a video of him explaining the scoop, ranked among the Top 5 stories on AP News for the day. It also scored strong play on major news websites and even made the front page of the New Orleans hometown Times-Picayune/Advocate. Mustian also appeared on public radio station WWNO to talk about the story.