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Docent at Dali denies sex past

A volunteer docent at the Dali Museum who sometimes works with young students is a former child psychiatrist whose medical license was revoked in three states amid allegations he had sexual contact with children.

Museum director Hank Hine said Friday he would likely dismiss the man if the allegations were true. "We put children first," Hine said.

Volunteer Donald Rife, who is 80 and has volunteered at the museum for more than a decade, said he has never been sexually inappropriate with children and has never been convicted of any sex crimes.

"Basically, I need to make it crystal clear: I'm not a pedophile. . . . I've had a long-term relationship with a woman and I'm absolutely no danger to any child."

The St. Petersburg Times received a call on Friday from a woman in New York who had seen a Don Rife listed as a Dali docent working with children in the museum's junior docent program. She wondered whether it was the same Rife who had been accused of molesting children.

Rife told a reporter he was the former child psychiatrist whose medical licenses had been revoked.

He said he has worked with elementary and middle school kids in the museum's junior docent program.

"I'm very careful to avoid being alone with any of them," he said. "We're always in a group, teaching with other instructors. I do that to protect myself against any sort of allegations."

Museum director Hine said no staff or volunteers are left alone with the children. "We always have other adults present," he said.

Educated at Harvard and Yale, Rife was once president of the Vermont Psychiatric Society. He joined the faculty at the University of Florida in 1986, where he was chief of the Student Mental Health Center. He also served as a consultant to the juvenile justice systems of several Florida counties.

While living in Gainesville, a neighbor accused Rife of sexual activity with her 7-year-old son. She said she found a photograph of her son in Rife's home that showed her son holding a cloth frog up to his mouth that had human-sized male genitalia.

The boy told detectives he played games with Rife in a Jacuzzi whirlpool, with and without bathing suits. Police searched Rife's home and found letters describing a sexual relationship between Rife and a 12-year-old boy, according to state records.

Rife denied the allegations.

The Gainesville Police Department filed a charge of lewd and lascivious or indecent assault on or in the presence of a child in 1987. The case was not prosecuted after the boy's parents decided it would be too traumatic for their son to testify.

The Florida Department of Professional Regulation investigated the case for the Board of Medicine, which revoked Rife's license in 1993.

Between 1969 and 1983, Rife treated hundreds of children in Vermont in private practice and as a consultant to Vermont high schools. In the 1980s some of his former patients told authorities that Rife performed sex acts on them during counseling sessions. Vermont officials revoked his license, saying Rife had committed sexual misconduct with minors in his office.

Rife on Friday described some of his Vermont accusers as juvenile delinquents, saying one was interested in money. Rife said his insurance company settled a civil suit with one former patient. He said once Vermont suspended his medical license, Florida and Massachusetts followed suit.

He said he retired in Florida after his licenses were revoked and had health problems.

Hine, the museum director, said he plans to look into whether the museum is doing enough to make sure its volunteers are suitable for working with children.

Jamie Thompson can be reached at (727) 893-8455. Send e-mail to