Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

First Unity Church accused of ignoring sex complaints

Youth leaders at First Unity Church complained about Richard O’Toole.

Youth leaders at First Unity Church complained about Richard O’Toole.

ST. PETERSBURG — Three former youth group leaders say First Unity Church officials ignored their concerns about a board member they believed made sexual advances toward young men at the church.

The youth leaders said their memberships in the 700-strong congregation were revoked after they reported their concerns last year.

This week, Francine Arrington, one of the youth leaders, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit, saying she was also fired from her job as the church's director of youth education. She was hired in July 2006.

The suit, filed by attorney David Linesch in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, says Arrington was fired for "voicing her opposition to the conduct of the Defendant (First Unity) and specifically its retention of a sexual predator who was a member of the Defendant's counseling staff and the Board of Trustees."

Church officials declined to comment due to the litigation.

In March, St. Petersburg police arrested Richard O'Toole, 69, for presenting himself as a licensed mental health counselor and offering services to church members. O'Toole was charged with six counts of practicing medicine without a license.

He was a First Unity Church member for nine years and a board member for 21/2 years. He is no longer a member.

Police investigation

Detective Joe Gasper said police began investigating O'Toole after the former youth group leaders contacted them with concerns about O'Toole.

He is not charged with any crimes involving sexual abuse against children and is not on the state sex offender registry. But police say they are still investigating whether O'Toole may have engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with youths as well as whether any more people were duped by his claims of being a mental health specialist.

"The investigation is still open," Gasper said.

Police have investigated an additional case in which O'Toole allegedly made advances toward a youth but said no charges were filed because the statute of limitations had expired.

In 1997, O'Toole was arrested on a charge of simple battery after showing a boy a pornographic film and then grabbing the clothed boy in a sexual manner. O'Toole pleaded no contest and adjudication was withheld.

He did not respond to messages Tuesday seeking comment.

The lawsuit says Arrington, 52, first learned O'Toole had made sexual advances toward two young men in early 2007. She said she reported the conduct to the church's minister, Temple Hayes, and learned that Hayes had been contacted by the grandparent of a third young man who also was concerned about O'Toole.

But Hayes continued to let O'Toole interact with youths, the lawsuit says. In October 2007, Arrington was fired.

That same month, two other youth group leaders —Arrington's husband, Jim Arrington, and Tom Crowley — said they encountered a 17-year-old who did yard work for O'Toole and accused him of making a sexual advance.

The former youth group leaders said they told Hayes about the incident and called police.

Police said they could not charge O'Toole in connection with that case due to insufficient evidence. But the report led them to uncover that O'Toole was passing himself off as a licensed mental health counselor.

Jim Arrington and Crowley said the church told them they were no longer welcome as members. "They were protecting the church rather than protecting the children," said Crowley, 58.

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Police ask anyone with information to call (727) 893-7780.

>>fast facts

How to help

Police ask anyone with information on the case to call (727) 893-7780.

First Unity Church accused of ignoring sex complaints 04/08/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2008 12:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Romano: On this education bill, you decide who is evil

    Politics

    The political ramifications are not lost on Kristine Benson.

    Six-year-old Chase Benson was born with down syndrome and autism. He attends a private school in Palm Harbor through a Gardiner Scholarship. [Photo courtesy of Kris Benson]
  2. St. Petersburg police team with federal agencies to crack down on gun and drug offenders (w/video)

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — Police say Raymond Adams, 29, jumped a fence to break into a home in the 800 block of 51st Street Avenue S.

    Some of the guns confiscated during an eight month firearms, drug trafficking, and violent crime operation dubbed the St. Petersburg Violent Crime Reduction Initiative were on display Wednesday, 5/24/17 at the St. Petersburg Police Department.  Federal charges have been filed against 35 individuals and state charges have been filled against 9 individuals in St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times

  3. Graco recalls car seats; webbing may not hold child in crash

    Public Safety

    Graco Children's Products is recalling more than 25,000 car seats because the harness webbing can break in a crash and may not keep children restrained.

    Graco has recalled eight different car seat models.
  4. Pro Bowl returning to Orlando in 2018

    Bucs

    ORLANDO — The Pro Bowl will return to Orlando in 2018 for the second straight year.

    Bucs  wide receiver Mike Evans runs a route as Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. defends during the first quarter of the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl in January at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  5. Plan your weekend: Memorial Day, Sunset Music Fest, comic Pablo Francisco, sci-fi writer Jeff VanderMeer

    Events

    Plan your weekend

    Holiday

    Memorial Day: Monday is the day to honor those who died serving their country, and the Bay Pines VA Memorial Day Ceremony will have Fox 13 anchor Alcides Segui as emcee, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and musical performances starting at 10 a.m. at 10000 Bay Pines Blvd., St. …

    GULF SHORES, AL - MAY 20:  Diplo of Major Lazer performs at the Surf Stage during 2017 Hangout Music Festival on May 20, 2017 in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Hangout Music Festival) 700050769