Statute of Limitations Expired on Fondling
Man Has Acknowledged Acts As a Cleric in 1983
By Valerie Kalfrin
June 2, 2007
TAMPA - A former cleric who acknowledged having sexual contact with children decades ago will not face criminal charges, a prosecutor said Friday, spurring a lawyer and a state senator to call for review of molestation statutes.
Before leaving a Catholic order to become an actor and drama coach, Jorge Acosta, 49, taught English and music at the now-closed Mary Help of Christians School in Tampa.
He acknowledged the sexual contact Feb. 7 in a sworn statement, given in connection with a $5 million lawsuit against the school and the religious order that operated it, the Salesian Society and the Salesian Society of Florida.
Acosta acknowledged having sexual relations with at least three boys in 1983. The boys were about 14, and the contact included fondling and "an extended period of French kissing goodnight," according to the deposition and a complaint from a related lawsuit.
The Miami attorney who took the deposition, Adam Horowitz, provided the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office with a copy to determine whether Acosta should face criminal charges.
On Friday, Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said Acosta would not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations on the offenses has expired.
Sheriff's investigators reviewed the deposition and interviewed at least three people identified in the document as victims, Bondi said. The criminal charge would be lewd and lascivious molestation, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
For this crime, prosecutors must pursue charges within three years of the offense or three years after the accuser reaches 18, Bondi said. The men who say Acosta abused them as teens are now in their 30s.
"It's impossible legally to prosecute," she said.
After the deposition was made public in a Tampa Tribune article, Acosta was fired as artistic director of St. Petersburg's Galaxy Center for the Arts and was replaced in a local production of "Cigar City Chronicles."
Reached by phone Friday, Acosta said he was not aware that criminal charges weren't forthcoming. He declined to comment further.
In a previous interview, however, Acosta said his past actions have caused him "profound shame and horror," adding, "I will for the rest of my life be horribly ashamed for what happened, but I have a track record of working with children for 20 years without a single other incident."
Horowitz said the inability to file criminal charges "demonstrates the need for reform in the law."
Statutes make an "artificial distinction," he said, between fondling and other acts such as forcible sex, which if performed on a child younger than 18 can be prosecuted at any time.
"It's not as if one victim is traumatized less than the other," Horowitz said. "Seeing the perpetrator punished goes a long way toward the healing process."
State Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, said she has been following the case and agreed that review is needed.
Storms sponsored a bill in the spring legislative session making life imprisonment a sentencing option when offenders are convicted three or more times of lewd and lascivious molestation. The bill failed.
Because Acosta was not arrested, his statements might not appear on a future criminal background check, which could allow him to work with children again, Storms said.
"It's frustrating, I think, to parents to see the people who commit these acts still walking around," she said. "This guy's got a Christmas present for the rest of his life."
"I will for the rest of my life be horribly ashamed for what happened," he said in an earlier interview.
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