Former Winter Haven priest accused of sexually abusing teen in Polk facility; lawsuit filed in Polk Circuit Court

By Suzie Schottelkotte
June 06, 2020

Father Fred Ruse, left, of Winter Haven stands with other opponents of the death penalty outside Florida State Prison minutes before convicted serial killer Aileen Wuornos is put to death by lethal injection in 2002.

A Sarasota man is suing former Winter Haven priest Fred Ruse on allegations of sexual abuse while the man was incarcerated in Polk as a teenager. Ruse has denied the accusations.

BARTOW – A Sarasota man is suing a former Winter Haven priest on allegations of sexual abuse while the man was incarcerated as a teenager at Demilly Correctional Institution near Polk City.

In the lawsuit, filed in Polk Circuit Court, the man states that he initially met with the Rev. Fred Ruse, then pastor at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Winter Haven, at the prison to receive communion in 2001 and 2002. They met privately in the chaplain’s office and in classrooms at the prison, the lawsuit states.

Ruse, now 70, began bringing gifts to the teenager, including Harry Potter books, according to the lawsuit.

“As (the teenager) began to place increasing trust in their relationship, Ruse used these opportunity to fondle (the teenager)...,” the lawsuit states. “The sexual contact then progressed to Father Ruse giving oral sex to (the teenager) and receiving oral sex from (him.)”

At the time, Ruse was not chaplain at the prison, which closed in 2012.

“Although these encounters occurred in a secure detention center, Father Ruse was allowed to meet privately with (the teenager) due to his status as a clergyman,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit, filed by Fort Lauderdale lawyer Adam Horowitz, alleges the abuse took place on multiple occasions.

Ruse, who lives in Ormond Beach and retired from active ministry in 2018, had denied the allegations.

Last December, the man, now 33, contacted the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to file a criminal complaint related to his allegations. According to that report, which the man provided to The Ledger, the statute of limitations had precluded charges from being filed.

The report also states that Ruse was contacted about the criminal allegations and, through his lawyer, had declined to be interviewed. In addition, according to the Sheriff’s Office report, Ruse submitted to a polygraph examination arranged by Orlando lawyer Andrew Moses, and that report revealed no deception.

Melbourne lawyer Ken Weaver, who’s representing Ruse in the lawsuit, said the allegations are unfounded.

“He denies every form of these baseless allegations,” he said Friday. “He did preach to the youth there, but he doesn’t remember this gentleman.

“He has led an exemplary life as a priest,” Weaver said. “He retired like he was supposed to after 44 years of service.”

Weaver said Ruse was suspended for 60 days in February while the Diocese of Orlando investigated the allegations, and was reinstated in April after being cleared of any wrongdoing.

He said the man bringing the allegations was released from prison in February 2019 after serving six years for scheme to defraud in Sarasota County, which is confirmed by Florida Department of Corrections records.

In the lawsuit, the man is seeking unspecified damages in excess of $30,000.



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