It was one of the most spectacular cases Janet Reno faced as Miami-Dade County state attorney: The owners of an unlicensed day care center accused of molesting more than 20 children under their care.
Frank Fuster, owner of Country Walk day care in southwest Dade, was convicted of 14 counts and sentenced to 165 years in prison in 1985. The methods Reno used to convict him served as a national model and burnished Reno's image as a children's advocate.
Now, the PBS documentary series Frontline will air allegations from Fuster's wife that Reno coerced her into testifying against her husband and that the children's allegations were fabricated. Fuster's wife, Ileana Flores, said Reno visited her in jail to pressure her into helping prosecutors.
The show, Did Daddy Do It?, scheduled to air tonight, casts a critical eye on the techniques Reno's office and police used to obtain crucial evidence from the victims and Flores.
Reno was state attorney from 1978 to 1992 before President Clinton appointed her U.S. attorney general. She is now the Democratic front-runner for governor, aiming to defeat Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in November.
Flores, who was 18 at the time, pleaded guilty and testified against her husband in return for a 10-year sentence. Fuster has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
"What I testified at trial was not the truth," said Flores. Her ex-husband, she says, is innocent.
She said investigators kept her naked in a Dade County jail cell, forced her to take cold showers and broke her down psychologically.
Flores made similar claims soon after she pleaded guilty in 1985, but later changed her story. When asked to recall details of the case, Reno told Frontline, "I haven't looked at the file in 15 years. I would need you to bring me all the files, and I don't foresee having the time to go through the files."
Nicole Harburger, her campaign spokesman, said Reno stands by her record.
Her deputy at the time, prosecutor David Marcus, defended their techniques in the case. It involved interviewing the child victims on camera, then showing the taped interviews to the jury.
Frontline spokeswoman Erin Martin Kane said the piece is a followup to a 1998 Frontline story that recalled the hysteria of several day care abuse cases across the United States. Flores approached a Frontline producer last summer and offered to tell her story, Martin said.
Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.