Chief accused of molesting teenage girls at elite boarding school
OSCEOLA COUNTY, Florida. – A chief who worked at an elite boarding school for troubled teenage girls is accused of assaulting or abusing four minors who lived there, according to court records.
Manuel Rodriguez, 40, is accused of offering the girls nicotine vapes or marijuana edibles in exchange for keeping the abuse quiet, arrest records show.
Rodriguez pleaded not guilty.
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The alleged crimes occurred at Providence Pass, a faith-based boarding school that is described on its website as “a world-class prep school for troubled teenage girls.”
The school helps girls ages 13 to 17 with issues including behavioral disorders, eating disorders, depression and mild drug addiction, according to its website. Some students paid more than $7,000 a month to attend, according to court records.
While Rodriguez is being held in the Osceola County Jail without bond pending trial, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office said it continues to actively investigate the case and is considering the possibility that he there are other victims.
“As an organization, we are heartbroken by the recent arrest of one of our former staff members,” Providence Pass officials said in a statement. “The school is fully cooperating with law enforcement and we are completely shocked by these extremely serious allegations.”
Arrest Records: Multiple Victims Involved
In early December, a 14-year-old girl disclosed to her therapist in Providence Pass that she had been sexually assaulted by Rodriguez shortly before Thanksgiving, court records show.
School officials contacted law enforcement within two days of learning of the allegations, according to the sheriff’s office.
According to court records, as Rodriguez and the 14-year-old walked down a long driveway from the Colonial-style boarding house to the mailbox, the teenager claims Rodriguez spoke about how he had done ‘sex things’ with girls in the past.
Upon returning home, the girl told sheriff’s investigators that Rodriguez “started touching her face and thighs.”
After the Thanksgiving break, the girl said she followed the chef into the garage to look for food. There, she claims that Rodriguez touched her rear end and thighs.
The girl also claimed that Rodriguez made her touch his penis over his clothes, according to arrest records.
Rodriguez then brought the girl a nicotine vape, which she claims she flushed down the toilet because she would get in trouble because of it, according to court records.
“I’m not sure I can trust you, but you can’t tell anyone about it,” Rodriguez reportedly told the girl.
The 14-year-old told investigators she spoke with other students who claimed they were also abused by Rodriguez, prompting authorities to interview more students.
A 16-year-old told detectives that Rodriguez groped her on her clothes while they were alone together inside the boarding house.
“You are literally the most beautiful person I have ever seen. I wish my wife had your body,” Rodriguez reportedly told the teenager.
Later that day, the 16-year-old claims Rodriguez placed his hands on his penis as they rode alone together in a van to deliver food to other students in the school building next door. about 20 miles from the downtown Celebration pension.
“[Rodriguez] Free [the victim] vaping nicotine if she didn’t tell anyone,” the arrest report states. “He also promised her edibles at Christmas. [Rodriguez] never gave them to him because he got fired before that.
A third teenager told investigators that Rodriguez came into her dark room around 10 p.m. one night and “laid on top of her for about five minutes” while “playing with” her chest, according to court records.
A fourth teenager claims Rodriguez ran his hand over his bottom on at least two occasions.
“When she went to bed, he kissed her on the forehead,” the arrest report said. “It was when they were in Room 5 and she was having a rough day.”
Providence Pass owner William Del-Giudice told sheriff investigators that staff members were prohibited from being alone with female juveniles, including in bedrooms, and that male staff were to stay only in the common areas of the house.
Del-Giudice said Rodriguez was never allowed to ride with young girls and could only drive them in the van if three or four other girls were present, according to court records.
According to court records, Del-Giudice located security video showing Manuel and a minor entering the garage alone. It is not clear from the report if this minor is one of the alleged victims.
“We take child safety very seriously and have zero tolerance for child abuse of any kind,” Providence Pass officials said in a statement to News 6. children to the authorities. We carefully interview and screen our employees and volunteers, and our team strives to maintain child protection policies based on national best practices and Florida State law.
School not regulated by the Florida DCF
Providence Pass is not regulated by the Florida Department of Children and Families since it is a faith-based boarding school.
Instead, residential child care centers claiming a religious exemption must be registered with the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies, or FACCCA.
Below State Lawsuch facilities must provide the FACCCA with the names of all personnel and “certify the good character” of such personnel by providing proof of compliance with state-mandated background checks.
FACCCA executive director Matthew Higgins did not respond to multiple emails and voicemails from News 6 asking if Providence Pass was properly registered and had met the screening requirements related to Rodriguez.
Rodriguez had not been charged with any previous crimes in Florida prior to his recent arrest, according to criminal records obtained by News 6 from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
News 6 could not immediately determine if Rodriguez had any previous arrests in other states.
Neither legal representatives for Del-Giudice nor Providence Pass responded to specific questions from News 6, including whether other staff members were inside the boarding house at the time of Rodriguez’s alleged crimes.
“We believe that transparency, child safety and accountability are essential, and we are fully committed to operating in a safe and responsible manner,” Providence Pass officials said in a statement.
Although DCF does not license Providence Pass, the state agency was contacted after allegations of abuse surfaced, according to court records.
“The Department investigates all reports of abuse or neglect involving children who have allegedly been abused by their parents or guardians,” a DCF spokesperson told News 6. “Investigations are confidential by [state law].”
Prosecutors charged Rodriguez with four counts of lewd and lascivious assault and one count of lewd and lascivious conduct involving three teenage victims, court records show.
Each count is a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Authorities have recommended that prosecutors file two additional counts of child abuse related to a fourth alleged victim.
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