Child welfare

New head of Broward HIV center faced molestation allegations

 

A man who has been accused multiple times of child molestation, but never charged, now heads a Broward service center for people with HIV.

cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com

A man who gave up custody of his own son amid a sex abuse investigation involving a foster child has been promoted to lead South Florida’s oldest and largest service group for people with the virus that causes AIDS — and their families.

Michael McGuigan is the new CEO of Broward House, founded in 1988, which serves over 6,000 men, women and children with HIV and AIDS at 15 Broward County centers.

Just this past summer, McGuigan, 53, surrendered all rights to a 6-year-old he had adopted from Florida’s foster care system after the Department of Children & Families seized the boy, along with three foster children in McGuigan’s care.

The action was prompted, in part, by the allegations of an 8-year-old boy last February, who told his caseworkers that McGuigan had molested him.

Although the case was closed with “no findings,” it was not the only time that McGuigan has been accused of making improper advances toward children.

In 2000, Delray Beach police sought charges against McGuigan for lewd and lascivious acts after a teenager told police McGuigan showed him a pornographic picture of a child and asked the boy to perform sex acts. No charges were filed by prosecutors. In 2011, an adult man told the Margate Police Department that McGuigan had molested him when the accuser was a child growing up near Boston.

McGuigan is not the only member of his family to be linked to allegations of child sex abuse. His father, John J. “Sean” McGuigan, was sentenced to serve seven to 10 years at what used to be called Walpole prison in Massachusetts for rape and molestation, and is now a registered sex offender. Sean McGuigan had been a foster father, a volunteer for Big Brothers, and also had adopted a child in Massachusetts.

Neither Michael McGuigan nor his attorney, Larry S. Davis, returned calls from a Miami Herald reporter Friday.

The president of Broward House’s board of directors, Mark Budwig, who owns a Fort Lauderdale graphic design firm, could not be reached for comment.

Dean Trantalis, a prominent Wilton Manors attorney and former city commissioner in Fort Lauderdale who serves on the Broward House board of directors, dismissed the allegations as “second- and third-hand accusations” that had never resulted in any arrests or convictions.

“If Mr. McGuigan were convicted of crimes of this sort, then my position would be that it was inappropriate for him to head the agency of Broward House,” Trantalis said. “In all fairness to anybody who is accused of something, they have the right to defend themselves and be heard in a court of law.”

Based in Fort Lauderdale, Broward House offers HIV and hepatitis C testing, operates both assisted living and independent housing facilities, as well as case management, education and prevention programs. The agency’s most recent available tax filing, from 2010, shows it with a roughly $11 million budget. McGuigan was listed as grants officer that year, and earned $105,437.

The group’s CEO at the time, Angelo Castillo, earned $198,104. Castillo’s retirement last September opened the door for McGuigan, who was vice president, to be promoted to CEO.

Michael McGuigan’s name first surfaced publicly in 2009. That’s when a 7-year-old boy named Gabriel Myers hanged himself in the shower of a Margate foster home. Gabriel’s death outraged South Florida children’s advocates, and sparked a two-year investigation and hearings.

Gabriel, who had been molested by an older boy while living with grandparents in Ohio, was living in McGuigan’s licensed foster home in the spring of 2009 when McGuigan told Broward foster care administrators he no longer could control the boy. “When he’s good, he’s an angel,” McGuigan wrote in a March 20, 2009, email to caseworkers. “And when he’s bad, he’s really, really bad, and his mood can change suddenly.”

Gabriel was sent to live at another foster home, where, less than a month later, he twisted a shower cord around his neck and suffocated.

A report by a task force that investigated Gabriel’s death, as well as comments from then-DCF Secretary George Sheldon, faulted the agency for allowing McGuigan to punish the boy for his difficult behavior his toys had been taken away, he was not allowed to wear his hair the way he wanted. The boy, Sheldon said, had suffered enough loss and trauma by the time he wound up in McGuigan’s home.

As details of the investigation were reported in The Miami Herald, an adult man contacted the Margate Police Department, which was investigating the Gabriel Myers case, and reported that he had been a victim of sex abuse by both McGuigan and McGuigan’s father in Massachusetts decades earlier. In May 2011, the Department of Children & Families and the Broward Sheriff’s Office took custody of McGuigan’s then-4-year-old son, whom he had adopted from foster care, as well as three other children who were living in McGuigan’s foster home.

Broward Circuit Judge Hope Bristol agreed to leave the adopted child in the custody of his babysitter, but warned McGuigan: “There will be no further contact, no phone calls, no texts, no daddy-wishes-you-a-good-nights.”

Another judge, Susan Lebow, later returned the adopted son to McGuigan, but allowed child welfare authorities to maintain jurisdiction.

In January of this year, DCF filed a petition asking a judge to permanently sever McGuigan’s parental rights to the child.

The next month, caseworkers with ChildNet, the privately run foster care agency in Broward, told a judge an 8-year-old boy had accused McGuigan of molesting him. Broward Circuit Judge Kenneth Gillespie ordered that McGuigan have no further contact with foster children Gillespie oversaw. Gillespie’s order proved to have no real impact: a spokesman for DCF said at the time that the agency had removed all foster children from McGuigan’s home, and McGuigan had agreed to relinquish his foster care license.

The Margate Police Department, which investigated both Gabriel’s death and the claims of the 8-year-old boy, closed their case at the end of last year with “no findings,” said Sgt. Efraim Suarez, the department’s spokesman.

On July 26 of this year, McGuigan signed a surrender, agreeing to terminate all rights to raise his adopted son. The boy is now up for adoption again.

McGuigan’s first known contact with law enforcement, though, occurred in 2000. A 16-year-old boy told the Delray Beach Police Department that McGuigan picked him up from an Albertson’s store, where the boy was interviewing for a job, and offered to drive him home. The boy thought McGuigan worked at the store, he said.

According to police reports, the boy said McGuigan pulled a picture out from under his car seat of a nude boy engaged in a sex act. The teen told police he believed the boy in the picture was about 11. “The man then asked [the teen] if he could perform oral sex on” the teen, the report said.

The boy told police he was frightened, and sat in the car motionless, answering McGuigan’s questions with simple yes or no answers.

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt you,” McGuigan told the boy, according to a police report.

The teen was able to identify McGuigan, reports said, because the older man returned to the Albertson’s store, where the boy was hired, more than once and approached him again. The teen followed McGuigan outside and wrote down his license tag. He later identified McGuigan from a photo lineup, reports say.

Though police asked prosecutors to file charges against McGuigan, the Palm Beach County state attorney’s office declined, ruling they had “insufficient evidence to sustain [the] burden of proof.”

Read more Broward stories from the Miami Herald

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