On the run for much of a week after he was linked to a high-profile investigation into the sexual trafficking of foster children, a state child-abuse investigator was arrested Saturday while he was trying to flee to the Dominican Republic.
Jean LaCroix, who has been on paid administrative leave since May from his job as a child-protective investigator with the Department of Children & Families, had been in New York City preparing to flee the United States, said Ed Griffith, a spokesman for Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle. LaCroix had reserved a flight to the Dominican Republic Friday night but never boarded the plane, which had been under surveillance by police and federal agents.
The original flight reservation “may have been a decoy,” Griffith said, or LaCroix may have been scared off before boarding.
Federal authorities then learned LaCroix was flying to the Caribbean nation Saturday morning, but were unable to stop the plane from taking off. Instead, federal authorities asked customs agents in the Dominican to refuse LaCroix entry. They did, and LaCroix was immediately returned to New York, where he was arrested.
Prosecutors believe LaCroix ultimately was headed for Haiti, where he grew up, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.
LaCroix, 46, was charged with five counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor, according to an arrest warrant signed by Detective Jeannette Azcuy, who headed up the case for the Miami-Dade Police Department.
“If he had gotten to Haiti, we would never have seen him again,” Griffith said.
Police, prosecutors and U.S. Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement agents “all went to extraordinary lengths to take this man into custody as he tried to flee the country,” said Rundle. “But for those who work child exploitation and human trafficking cases, extraordinary efforts are just part of the everyday routine.”
DCF is in the process of firing LaCroix, said agency spokesman Joe Follick. Months ago, when agency administrators learned of his alleged actions, they conducted a detailed review of his caseload to ensure he had not had sex with any other underage girls, Follick added.
“We are extremely grateful for the hard work of law enforcement and the state attorney’s office,” Follick added. “We will continue to work with them in this case and in the future to protect all children.”
72 PHONE CALLS
According to the warrant obtained by The Miami Herald late Saturday, Miami-Dade police learned May 7 from a DCF investigator that a girl under agency supervision disclosed she had repeatedly had sex with LaCroix, who had been the investigator assigned to her child-abuse case.
Beginning on Oct.11, and lasting until child-welfare administrators moved his alleged victim to a different part of the county the next January, LaCroix allegedly met with the girl numerous times, the warrant says.
The teen told police she would call LaCroix from her cell phone to his, and they would arrange to meet near her school. From there, LaCroix would take the girl back to his home to have sex, the warrant says.
LaCroix’s state-issued cell phone, the warrant says, showed “considerable” phone activity between LaCroix and the girl. From Dec. 24 through Jan. 23 alone, the two spoke on the phone 72 times, the warrant says.
A review of phone records showed that, on at least five occasions, LaCroix and the foster child spoke on the phone either early in the morning before school or during school hours, when the girl had been absent from school without an excuse, the warrant says.
On May 4, the warrant says, DCF administrators told LaCroix to stop speaking with the girl. Nevertheless, the girl told police she both saw and spoke with him two days later. On May 7, the agency placed LaCroix on administrative leave with pay, and seized his cell phone. But LaCroix continued to call the girl from another phone, “and instructed her to call him” from something other than her cell phone.