LARGO — The director of children's ministry at Anona United Methodist Church and a prominent member of the local theater and dance community has been arrested after police said he inappropriately touched a 14-year-old girl.
Domenic Victor Bisesti, 31, faces a charge of lewd and lascivious molestation after the girl told police he touched her buttocks several times and tried to kiss her at the church at 13233 Indian Rocks Road, according to Largo police. Investigators and church officials don't know of any other victims.
Jack Stephenson, senior pastor at Anona, said Wednesday that the church has removed him from programming and barred him from campus pending the investigation.
"He's turned in his keys, he will not be on campus, he's cleaned out his office," Stephenson said.
Bisesti was also involved in Eight O'Clock Theatre, a community theater group based in the Central Park Performing Arts Center, and Tutterow Dance Academy, a well-known local dance troupe.
Police said Bisesti touched the girl on several occasions over the last few months. When she realized it wasn't accidental, she asked him to stop, but he continued.
According to his arrest report, Bisesti told her she was cute and that he could not help himself. The girl also said Bisesti cornered her in the church and tried to kiss her. Detectives corroborated the incident with a message sent Friday from Bisesti to the girl on Snapchat, a photo and message transmission app, that read, "I wish we could have either kept going or never gotten that close," according to the report.
The girl told her mother, and they reported it to police on Sunday, the report said.
Bisesti was booked into Pinellas County Jail and released early Wednesday on $10,000 bail. He declined to comment Wednesday.
Investigators approached the church Tuesday after they arrested Bisesti. Stephenson said shock and surprise would be an understatement for how he and church leaders feel about the news.
"He was a beloved person here at this church," Stephenson said.
Stephenson said Bisesti had worked at the church for several years, mainly focused on leading children's worship. Church leaders have brought in psychologists and early childhood experts to help parents tell their children and teenagers.
"Our main concern is trying to come together around parents and kids," he said.
Deborah Kennedy, Tutterow's director, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. According to the academy's website, the studio offers classes and has an award-winning travel team made up of dancers ages 6 to 18. An old version of the website dated May 30 lists a Domenic Bisesti as a faculty member. He was no longer listed on the website as of Wednesday.
Bisesti has been active in the Eight O'Clock Theatre since childhood, according to a Tampa Bay Times article that also said he graduated from Largo High School in 2004.
He has choreographed and directed productions including Monty Python's Spamalot this year and Jesus Christ Superstar last year, said Betsy Byrd, managing director for the theater.
Byrd said Wednesday that Bisesti is a gifted director whom actors of all ages have enjoyed working with. She said she doesn't foresee the theater dropping its relationship with him based on the accusations that he was touching the girl's buttocks. Patting someone on the buttocks as they walk by is common in the theater world, she said.
She was not aware of the incident in which police said Bisesti cornered the girl at church and sent the Snapchat message until a Times reporter read it to her from the arrest report.
"I don't really have any comment on that," she said. "I don't really know what to say about that."
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or email@example.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.