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Men charged in child-porn case were youth coaches

The arrests of two men accused of child pornography, one with a violent criminal history, raised concerns among parents and others Tuesday about why the men were able to have frequent contact with children through schools and youth teams.

David Rojas, 44, and John Derrick Martin, 43, were arrested Friday after deputies say they drugged and persuaded two teenage girls to engage in sexual activity with each other. The men also are accused of videotaping and photographing the girls at a Tampa hotel in July.

Both men routinely had contact with children as youth coaches and as part of their media company that worked in Tampa Bay area schools, according to the Florida Attorney General's Office.

"You just trust that the right things have been put in place to protect your kids," said Laurie Ferguson, who has a son on the Dunedin Jr. Falcons football team. "I don't know how this happened."

Rojas coached the Dunedin Jr. Falcons pee wee varsity team, made up of 11- and 12-year-old boys, as part of the SunCoast Youth Football Conference. Rojas also served as the conference's vice president and a referee for high school football in Pinellas County.

Rojas has a lengthy criminal history in Florida, including convictions for aggravated assault, carrying a concealed firearm, battery and dealing in stolen property, mostly in the 1990s, state records show.

Martin, 43, was an unpaid volunteer wrestling coach at Armwood High School in Seffner last season, said coach Rob Langford. He has no criminal record in Florida.

The allegations shocked parents and coaches who knew the men through youth sports. Investigators say their inquiry is continuing and they are encouraging anyone with information to come forward.

• • •

Those who worked with or knew Rojas and Martin seemed taken aback by the accusations.

Martin, of Wesley Chapel, coached at King High in Tampa before working with Armwood last season.

"He didn't do anything with us over this summer," coach Langford said. "He was in and out of our room this year, stopped by one or two days a week in all reality. He wasn't in practice every single day, kind of one of those fly-by-night guys."

Rojas, of Clearwater, also didn't raise any suspicion. A major complaint against him seemed to be that his Dunedin pee wee football team didn't win a single game in his first year as coach.

Jacque Avise, secretary of the SunCoast Youth Football executive board, said the conference has not had any complaints against Rojas during her tenure.

She said she learned of his arrest Monday from former conference president Lenny Anderson.

"It definitely wasn't what anyone was expecting," said Avise.

Avise said the conference performs background checks on all of the volunteer coaches, but only for sexual offenses.

"All we're looking for is sexual offenders, sexual predators," she said.

Avise said Rojas has been indefinitely suspended.

Both Rojas and Martin work for American Media Systems, a media company that worked in area schools, according to the state Attorney General's Office.

State records show Martin is the owner of the Tampa-based company, which became inactive in September 2009. Jail records list Rojas as an "AV engineer'' for the company.

Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco school officials either could not confirm that the men worked inside their schools or did not return calls. School is closed this week.

It was unclear exactly what kind of work Martin and Rojas did in the schools or if it had any relation to what investigators say happened at a La Quinta Inn and Suites at 3826 W Waters Ave. in Tampa on July 9.

That's when the men drugged two girls between the ages of 13 and 18 and then persuaded them to engage in sexual activity with each other, investigators say.

Martin and Rojas each was charged with promotion of child pornography, one count of lewd or lascivious conduct and one count of lewd or lascivious battery. Each posted $30,000 bail and was released from the Hillsborough County Jail on Saturday.

• • •

In the days after the arrests, many parents questioned how Rojas' string of arrests, dating from 1988 to 2009, could have slipped past youth league officials.

"We were all mortified," said Julie Ward Bujalski, a Dunedin city commissioner who also had a son on Rojas' team. "Very concerned for the safety of our children."

Ferguson said she wants the youth football conference to make major changes to its screening process for coaches.

"These are our children," she said.

Investigators ask that anyone with information about this or other cases call the CyberTipline toll-free at 1-800-843-5678.

Times staff writers Rita Farlow, Jessica Vander Velde and Joey Knight contributed to this report.

Men charged in child-porn case were youth coaches 12/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 7:59am]
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