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Phony counselor charges mount against ex-church leader

ST. PETERSBURG — Richard O'Toole, the former First Unity Church board member accused of phony psychology, now faces four more criminal charges of providing mental health counseling without a license.

On Thursday, police arrested O'Toole, 69, for the second time in two months. Arrest affidavits say O'Toole counseled three men, including a 16-year-old, at his home and at First Unity. He counseled one man twice.

One of the victims came forward after reading a recent St. Petersburg Times article detailing how three leaders of a youth group said they were forced out of the church after raising concerns about O'Toole.

They said the church's minister, the Rev. Temple Hayes, ignored their suspicions that O'Toole was making inappropriate sexual advances toward young teenage men.

One of the youth group leaders, Francine Arrington, has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the church.

Church officials have declined to comment on the allegations because of the pending litigation.

O'Toole smiled as police led him out of his house and into a cruiser Thursday. When asked if he had anything to say, O'Toole replied: "No, thanks. We're going to let the courts take care of it."

O'Toole now faces 10 charges of practicing medicine without a license. 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, in addition to whether any more people were duped by his claims of being a mental health specialist.

"The investigation is still ongoing, and we still have a lot of work to do," said detective Joe Gasper.

According to the lawsuit, Arrington first learned O'Toole had made sexual advances toward two young men in early 2007. She said she reported the conduct to 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, and fired Arrington in October 2007.

That same month, two other youth group leaders —Arrington's husband, Jim, 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, but authorities could not charge O'Toole in connection with that case because of insufficient evidence.

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

Phony counselor charges mount against ex-church leader 04/10/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2008 1:36pm]
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