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Grand jury's report on child rape case is sealed

A Hillsborough grand jury spent two long days reviewing a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the handling of a controversial Tampa rape case and handed up a sealed report late Thursday.

Circuit Judge James Arnold ordered the grand jury's report sealed until everyone named in it has received a copy and has had 15 days to respond.

The same grand jury had indicted Andrew Sanchez, 59, on seven counts including sexual battery and familial sexual activity. The grand jury added an unusual statement to the indictment: "The case was obviously mishandled by one or more of the responsible Hillsborough County agencies and should be investigated by FDLE."

The governor ordered a state investigation into how local police, prosecutors and social workers handled the case, which involved a man married to a politically well-connected local Democrat.

The case centered on a girl who once lived with Sanchez and his wife. Carmen Sanchez has been active in several state campaigns for Democratic candidates and was one of six delegates from Tampa's congressional district to attend the 1992 Democratic National Convention. She also was a contributor to State Attorney Harry Lee Coe's 1992 campaign.

"I have never spoken to (Sanchez) in any way, shape or manner about the case, either before, during or after" the case began, Coe said in March.

The girl, now 17, said Sanchez began sexually abusing her in 1987 and continued until she left Tampa in 1993 at age 15. The girl first reported it to a school counselor at Claywell Elementary when she was in third grade. In 1993, she reported the abuse again, and the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services and Tampa police became involved. Police turned over their findings to the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office in 1993.

In 1994, the victim's family alleged possible favoritism toward Sanchez, and Coe asked that a special prosecutor be assigned to take over the case. By then, the case had been in Coe's office for nearly eight months.

The governor reassigned it to 7th Circuit State Attorney Steve Alexander of Daytona Beach. In March, Sanchez was indicted.

At the grand jury's request, FDLE interviewed dozens of people involved in the case and compiled an exhaustive report, Alexander said. This week, the grand jury heard 17 witnesses and compiled an 18-page report that includes "findings of fact, records and criticisms," Alexander said.

Also Thursday, the grand jury added an eighth charge to Sanchez's indictment. He is charged with solicitation of sexual activity with a child and accused of trying to get a man who worked for him to have sex with the girl as her 15th birthday present.

His trial is scheduled for Sept. 5.