'Dying' ex-NY cop who for decades evaded child sex abuse trial arrested on felony charges

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Former New York cop Leonard Forte, who stalled a Vermont trial for decades by claiming to be near death, was arrested in Florida on two charges related to obstruction of justice.
Former New York cop Leonard Forte, who stalled a Vermont trial for decades by claiming to be near death, was arrested in Florida on two charges related to obstruction of justice.

A former New York police officer who for decades has delayed facing justice over allegations that he repeatedly raped and molested his daughter's 12-year-old friend was arrested in Florida on charges related to the case.

Law enforcement officials arrested Leonard Forte, who is now 80, at his home in Labelle, Florida, on Oct. 18. Forte, a former Suffolk County District Attorney's Office detective, faces two felony charges in Florida on accusations of using the ID of another person without consent and the use of a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony. The arrest warrant was based on a probable cause affidavit submitted by a Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent, who was assigned to assist the Vermont Attorney General's Office on the pending criminal prosecution of Forte.

A jury in Vermont in 1988 found Forte guilty of three counts of sexual assault alleged to have occurred during a family ski vacation. Forte, who was 54 at the time, faced up to 60 years in prison.

The judge tossed the verdict, however. Prosecutors strongly disagreed with the move and planned a retrial. Before it could begin, Forte persuaded prosecutors to delay the retrial because he said he had a medical condition that likely meant he would soon be dead. It was a claim he repeated for the next 25 years.

A USA TODAY investigation in 2019 revealed how Vermont prosecutors had mishandled the case – likely the oldest open prosecution in which the defendant is not a fugitive – and exposed Forte's dubious claims about his health. Reporters used public records and social media posts from Forte's family members to show he was not receiving round-the-clock medical care and frequently traveled around the country, including within 200 miles of the Vermont courthouse to which he said his illness was too severe for him to travel.

More: 'I've been dying for 25 years': How a cop has stalled his child sex abuse trial for decades

Vermont's Attorney General's Office revived the case against Forte after the USA TODAY report. The probable cause affidavit stemming from Forte's recent arrest details how officials in Vermont requested assistance from Florida law enforcement and how the agent gathered information against Forte using cellphone records, surveillance and a search warrant at Forte's home in September.

The resulting felony charges in Florida concern Forte submitting to the Vermont court duplicate, undated letters from his former physician stating he was unable to travel and testify because of his medical condition. The Vermont Attorney General's Office had suspected Forte had filed the same letter in 2016 and 2019, according to the affidavit.

Forte made two or more contradictory statements in court that the physician who signed the letter was still his doctor in 2019 and that she had sent him the letter that year, the affidavit says. A statement from Forte's doctor indicated she last examined him in 2017.

Forte was released the same day of his arrest Oct. 18 on $1,000 bond for each charge. He and his defense attorney could not be reached for comment.

Vermont Deputy State’s Attorney Linda Purdy, the lead prosecutor for the case, said she could not comment specifically on Forte's arrest in Florida.

"Florida was looking at whether or not any crimes had been committed in Florida concerning the actions Mr. Forte had in terms of contacting the Vermont courts," Purdy said.

Despite claiming to be near death and hooked to an oxygen tank around the clock, former New York police detective Leonard Forte was photographed in 2019 walking around the yard of his home in Labelle, Fla.
Despite claiming to be near death and hooked to an oxygen tank around the clock, former New York police detective Leonard Forte was photographed in 2019 walking around the yard of his home in Labelle, Fla.

The Vermont Attorney General's Office, along with the Bennington County, Vermont, State's Attorneys Office charged Forte with two counts of obstruction of justice in the summer. Forte was arraigned on those charges in July 2021.

The Vermont court ruled in June 2021 that Forte was physically capable of standing trial, according to Purdy.

Forte and his defense attorney filed a motion to have the court order a mental competency exam and additional psychological examinations related to Forte's cognitive condition.

Purdy said the court was awaiting the completion of those evaluations.

The court held a recent status conference and said it was looking at a March 2022 trial schedule for Forte's 1988 sexual assault case. A status conference on Nov. 8 will review Forte's completed mental competency and psychological examinations.

Purdy said Forte does not have to be extradited to Vermont for the obstruction of justice charges because the court will move forward with the 1988 case before moving forward with the obstruction charges.

Until the June ruling that Forte was physically capable of standing trial, Vermont officials had failed to order Forte back to the state for the child sex abuse trial. Officials also had not held Forte accountable for neglecting to update the court on his medical condition every six months, which had been a stipulation for agreeing to delay his prosecution.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cop who stalled child sex abuse trial for decades arrested in Florida

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