A 32-year-old Tampa man has been arrested after he sent explicit material to a teen after speaking to her when she called a Crisis Center hotline, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
The girl called the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay’s 211 hotline around 9:30 a.m. March 28 and left her contact information so that an interventional specialist could call her back, the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Thursday night.
Soon after that, a man called the teen and introduced himself as “William,” an intervention specialist at the Crisis Center. They spoke for more than an hour on the recorded line, deputies said.
Within an hour, he called the girl again — this time from a restricted number. He told the teen he was calling to check on her, according to the release.
Throughout multiple follow-up calls, the man got the teen’s Instagram username, followed her and started sending her direct messages on the social media platform, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Deputies say he began sending explicit videos and photos to the teen and asked her to send naked photos of herself — a request she denied. The next day at school, the girl reported what had happened to a school resource deputy.
Investigators determined that “William” was Christopher Augusto Laracuente Cotto, a man who had been working at the Crisis Center for about two months, the Sheriff’s Office said. It is standard practice for an intervention specialist at the Crisis Center to use a pseudonym to protect their privacy and confidentiality, Clara Reynolds, the CEO of the Crisis Center, said Friday in a phone call with a Times reporter.
They also learned that Laracuente Cotto volunteers at Iglesia Adoración Y Palabra Jesucristo Es El Señor (Iglesia APJS) in Wesley Chapel as a worship leader, according to the Sheriff’s Office release. A phone number listed for Iglesia Adoración Y Palabra Jesucristo Es El Señor was not in service, and an email sent to the church was not returned Friday.
Detectives got a subpoena to search Laracuente Cotto’s cellphone and were able to confirm the teen’s account of the interactions, the Sheriff’s Office said, and when detectives questioned Laracuente Cotto, he confessed.
He was arrested and booked into a Hillsborough County jail Thursday. Laracuente Cotto faces charges of transmission of harmful material to a minor and unlawful use of a two-way communications device, according to jail records. He is being held on a $4,000 bond.
In a statement to the Times sent Thursday night, the Crisis Center said Laracuente Cotto had “passed both his local law enforcement and Level 2 background checks before he was hired and was an employee of the organization for less than 60 days. As soon as the Crisis Center confirmed the inappropriate telephonic contact, the employee was immediately terminated for violating policies.”
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The Crisis Center also said it was reviewing its procedures and policies in an effort to prevent similar incidents in the future, and that it will continue to cooperate with the Sheriff’s Office investigation.
Reynolds said staff members at the Crisis Center are heartbroken by the situation.
“We are deeply saddened by the actions of this former employee but thankful the victim had a resource available in the community that protected them. We are so sorry that a vulnerable person was hurt because it goes directly against what we work for every day,” said Reynolds in a statement Thursday.
Reynolds said she recognizes that the trust between the Crisis Center and the public has been violated.
If a person who is struggling no longer feels comfortable going to the Crisis Center, she asks that they continue to seek help from other resources in the community.
“This is something we take incredibly seriously,” Reynolds said. “It’s the reason why we’ve been as transparent as possible, so that the community knows that this is something that breaks all of our hearts.”
A phone call to a number listed for Laracuente Cotto in a Sheriff’s Office document was not answered and did not allow a message to be left. An email sent to an address matching Laracuento Cotto’s name was not returned Friday.
Times staff writer Michaela Mulligan contributed to this report.