South Florida church warned about leader’s ‘grooming’ four months before alleged molestation

·5 min read

The allegations were already disturbing. Rick Torcise, a 67-year-old businessman who hails from an influential South Miami-Dade family, was charged last month with sexually molesting a teen boy he met while leading a youth group at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship Church in Homestead.

But testimony in court has now revealed another bombshell: four months before the alleged molestation, the church’s senior pastor received an anonymous letter, ostensibly from the parent of another boy, accusing Torcise of “homosexual grooming” and behaving “inappropriately with him sexually in many ways.”

“My whole reason for sharing this with you now is that I realize Rick may still be having access around young boys/men and if so that could be a very terrible thing for them,” the email letter, dated June 18, 2021, read. “One thing our culture has learned is that pedophiles never change — so I don’t believe that my son was an isolated incident.”

Whoever wrote the letter declined to provide details of the supposed abuse “because I want to honor my son and in order to protect his identity.”

The details emerged Tuesday during a bond hearing for Torcise, as a Miami-Dade Police detective testified that the church’s pastor, Jordan Caldwell, did not remove Torcise from his duties leading Bible studies with boys. The reason: Torcise denied the allegations, and the letter did not name the supposed victim.

“Because there was no name, there wasn’t much he could do,” Detective Dorneisha Mallary recalled the pastor telling her.

Miami-Dade Detective Dorneisha Mallary, of the sex crimes bureau, testifies during a bond hearing for Rick Torcise on Nov. 30, 2021. He is accused of molesting a 17-year-old boy he met at a Homestead church.
Miami-Dade Detective Dorneisha Mallary, of the sex crimes bureau, testifies during a bond hearing for Rick Torcise on Nov. 30, 2021. He is accused of molesting a 17-year-old boy he met at a Homestead church.

The revelation raises new questions about the scope of Torcise’s behavior with teen boys affiliated with the church. During testimony, the detective acknowledged that “more victims” have come forward, escalating the probe into Torcise, who was returned to jail Tuesday after a judge ruled he’d been earlier released on bond in error.

His defense attorney, Michael Davis, called the anonymous letter “hearsay within hearsay” and suggested it was a “fishing expedition” unveiled as part of the ongoing criminal probe. Pastor Caldwell, who turned the letter over to police after Torcise’s arrest, did not return a request seeking comment.

The church’s attorney, Eunice Puga, declined to comment, citing the “ongoing investigation.”

“We’re letting authorities do what they need to do,” Puga said on Wednesday.

The letter was entered Tuesday as a court exhibit. John Priovolos, a lawyer representing the victim in the charged case, said the letter, while unsubstantiated, was nevertheless alarming.

“Whether it was a truthful letter or not, what’s important about that letter, is Mr. Torcise knew about the letter,” Priovolos told Circuit Judge Carmen Cabarga. “Months later, after he knew and was confronted by the pastor... [Torcise] still conducted himself in a way in which he wasn’t deterred.”

Tuesday’s court hearing took place nearly two weeks after Torcise was arrested and charged with molesting a 17-year-old boy whom he met at the church.

According to an arrest report, the victim told police that Torcise was a leader of the church’s youth group, and fondled him on multiple occasions between June and October. Torcise hired the boy to work at a greenhouse on a property near his home, and they often went to dinners or Bible studies afterward.

Police say that on Oct. 16, Torcise performed a sex act on the teen and asked that the teen do likewise. The teen said he complied “out of fear,” according to a police report. Detective Mallary testified that the act took place at Torcise’s South Miami-Dade home after work at the greenhouse.

Torcise was charged with engaging in a sexual act with a child by someone who is in a position of “custodial authority.” Under Florida law, someone charged with the crime is not automatically entitled to a bond.

But after his arrest on Nov. 16, Torcise was allowed to post a $10,000 bond and leave jail because of a glitch in Miami-Dade’s Criminal Justice Information Services database, which is used to book and track defendants facing trial. He was entered into the system using an outdated version of the Florida law.

After weeks of legal wrangling — his lawyers fought to keep him free on bond — Judge Cabarga on Tuesday ruled that Torcise had not received a proper bond hearing. She held that hearing, then ruled there was “probable cause” that Torcise was in a position of custodial authority.

“The victim’s parents explained that they were looking for guidance for their son. The parents trusted [Torcise] with their son,” Cabarga said.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Carmen Cabarga presides over a bond hearing for Rick Torcise on Nov. 30, 2021. He is accused of sexually molesting a teen boy he met at his church in Homestead.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Carmen Cabarga presides over a bond hearing for Rick Torcise on Nov. 30, 2021. He is accused of sexually molesting a teen boy he met at his church in Homestead.

Torcise won’t necessarily remain in jail until a trial.

As is allowed under Florida law, the court scheduled another hearing to explore a possible bond on Dec. 7. That’s when prosecutors could unveil additional evidence against Torcise in a bid to keep him behind bars.

“We’re not comfortable he will not have access to boys” if he remains free, Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Natalie Snyder, the head of the sex crimes unit, told the judge on Tuesday.

His lawyers will seek to establish Torcise poses no threat and won’t flee because of his longstanding ties to the community. Gael Torcise, his wife of 42 years, testified Tuesday that both their families trace their lineage back to the 1800s in Homestead.

“He’s my husband,” Gael Torcise said. “I love him and I support him.”

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