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  Porn Bust Snares Former Priest
DCF: Oust Leader of Group Home

By Donna Gehrke-White and Elena Cabral
Miami Herald
March 15, 2002

A former Franciscan priest who went to a McDonald's to meet a child for sex has continued to run a group home for the disabled after a Broward judge let him retain his clean criminal record.

After being questioned about the situation by a reporter on Thursday, the Department of Children & Families hand-delivered a letter to the group home demanding that Edward Sokol immediately leave his job.

Sokol, 57, who surfed the Internet using the screen name Onurneez2, entered a plea of no contest to a charge of computer pornography in December, then asked Judge Sheldon Schapiro not to adjudicate him guilty so he would not have to leave his position as executive director of St. Francis Village Group Home, at 7905 NW 40th St., in Davie.

Without Sokol, residents of the home would have nowhere to go, Sokol's legal counsel and supporters, including relatives of a group home resident, argued at a February hearing.

Schapiro went along.

"They were very complimentary, saying he was a very hardworking, caring man . . . who had a problem, I guess, trying to express his sexuality," Schapiro said. "The testimony was very impressive."

Sokol should have been removed from the home when he entered his plea on Dec. 19, said Jack Moss, the Department of Children & Families' Broward district administrator. But the department lost track of the case.

"It probably should have been monitored more closely than it was," Moss said.

Sokol, who used to work for the Boston archdiocese, was snared in a sting run by a multiagency task force of undercover officers who pretend to be children cruising the Internet. He was arrested at a Plantation McDonald's, where he had arranged to rendezvous with a fictitious 15-year-old. Police transcripts indicate that Sokol intended to take the teen back to his home. The group home is listed as his home address.

Although he was allowed to remain in charge of the facility after his April arrest, DCF set up a "safety plan" at the home requiring that Sokol never be alone with one of his charges, males over 18 with disabilities. A caretaker hired by the department had to be present.

DCF also offered the families of the seven residents the opportunity to relocate with the department's help. One family chose that option, Moss said.

An investigation by DCF showed no evidence that Sokol sexually abused his charges, Moss said.

Sokol did not respond to a telephone call or visit to the cheerfully painted yellow group home on a quiet street of modest homes. His attorney, Michael Entin, is out of town until Monday and unavailable for immediate comment.

Sokol told law enforcement officers he has been director of the group home for the past 10 years.

He also told them he had been a priest.

According to Boston Archdiocese records, Sokol performed pastoral duties at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston in 1987.

"It was a very brief stay," said a source with the archdiocese.

By March 1988, he had left. The archdiocese has no record of where he went.

For a while in the 1980s, he worked at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass., according to the school.

An article in The Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader in 1991 told how Sokol -- "Father Ed" -- of St. Thomas Church in Derry was trying to raise money to start a home for the severely impaired in Florida.

"I think God wants me to get something started," Sokol said. The church was affiliated with the Franciscan order, started by St. Francis of Assisi. He joined the Franciscan order as a priest.

Sokol said he initially had the support of the Franciscans in his efforts to start a group home, but lost it when he was directed to return to the Northeast from Florida and refused, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report on his arrest.

A staff member with the Franciscan order said Sokol was no longer affiliated with the order.

Sokol told investigators he was no longer a Franciscan, but added, "once a priest, always a priest." He said he had "assisted" at two local parishes, St. Charles Borromeo in Hallandale Beach, and St. Maurice in Fort Lauderdale.

Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami, said Sokol was granted faculties -- essentially permission to function as a priest -- in October 1991, but that the privilege ended in 1992.

In his neighborhood, Sokol is considered a priest, said Sarah Stein, who lives next door to his group home.

"We call him Father," says Stein who has known him for about seven years. "He's a really great neighbor."

In Secretary of State records, he is identified as "Fr. Edward Sokol."

In an interview, Judge Shapiro said he took into account that Sokol had no prior arrest record -- at least in Florida -- in withholding the adjudication. Making him serve time in jail would not help society, he added. "He is a benefit to society."

Schapiro did, however, order him to receive psychological treatment, evaluation for alcohol abuse and attend classes at the Center for Offender Rehabilitation.

Contact: dgehrke@herald.com

 
 

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