Sunday, July 22, 2018
News Roundup

Another teen girl accuses Brandon pastor of sexual abuse

TAMPA — Another teenage girl has come forward to accuse Brandon pastor Francisco Rios of sexually abusing her, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office officials said Monday.

Already facing three charges of lewd and lascivious molestation for incidents involving a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old in his congregation, Rios will now be charged a fourth time, officials said, for inappropriately touching another 15-year-old. Arrested in early April, Rios is the pastor of the Spanish-language evangelical church Casa de Amor.

A spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office said detectives had known about and tried to contact the girl, but in the year since the alleged incident she had left Florida and couldn't be reached until recently.

At a court hearing Monday, sheriff's Detective Chris Seaton said the girls told similar stories of being alone with Rios in his office at the church on Windhorst Road. The 12-year-old said there had been multiple times when Rios slapped her behind, kissed her and touched her inappropriately, Seaton said. The first 15-year-old to come forward told the detective that Rios began touching her several years ago, but in 2013, his actions escalated.

"He convinced her these actions were to help relieve her of stress and were done because of his love for her," Seaton said.

The girl's 43-year-old mother has also accused Rios of molesting her, saying he told her he was touching her to cure her of herpes. Prosecutors have not filed charges based on her assertion.

Rio's attorney, Kevin Napper, said the girls' allegations stem from an old dispute within the church over changes Rios made to its youth dance program. The mother of the 15-year-old who first reported being abused has "profound mental health issues," Napper said, including bipolar disorder. The woman made similar allegations in the past, he said.

Dressed in white, Casa de Amor congregants and members of Rios' family took up half the courtroom in a show of support for their pastor, who beamed at the gathering from his seat. Bail was set at $150,000.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.

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