When we hear about the dangers of amusement parks, our minds immediately go to the rides. We imagine derailments, collisions, ejections — broken bones, concussions, lacerations. But there’s another sinister hazard hiding beneath these more obvious threats: sexual abuse committed against children. At least 35 Disney World employees have been charged with various sex crimes involving minors since 2006, with a recent sting operation netting 22 suspects. Several employees from SeaWorld and Universal Studios have also been charged.
Sexual Predators at Theme Parks
“Wherever you find children,” says Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Florida, “you’ll find sexual predators that want to be there.”
Judd’s grim assessment is disturbingly accurate, as a series of recent sting operations have made painfully clear.
Dozens of employees from Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios parks have been arrested in connection with various sex crimes against minors since 2006. Most recently, a bust carried out by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office earlier this month netted an astonishing 22 arrests. All of the arrested suspects were male, and several were identified as employees of Walt Disney World, including 49-year-old Robert Kingsolver, who works on maintaining the rides at Magic Kingdom, and 32-year-old Joel Torres.
Other men captured in similar sting operations conducted during recent months include 40-year-old Allen Treaster, a concierge and former ride operator at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge; 32-year-old Patrick Holgerson, a character actor and tour-guide-in-training; 33-year-old William Marrero-Maldonado, a Disney security guard; 68-year-old Paul Fazio, who worked at one of Disney’s gift shops; and 49-year-old pastor Cedric Cuthbert, a custodian on the night shift.
Indeed, the sheer diversity of the suspects’ job positions is a particularly alarming detail. Gift shop workers, tour guides, security guards, costumed actors, maintenance workers — it would seem as though virtually every branch of Disney’s theme park workforce plays a role in this heinous case.
While many of the arrests turned up Disney employees, other suspects included an additional two workers from SeaWorld, and five workers from Universal Studios.
“My Kids Know Me, and They Know How Much I Care for Kids”
Perhaps it serves as some cold comfort that to date, the majority of the charges have yielded criminal convictions. Among the 35 Disney-employed suspects targeted since 2006, 32 have led to convictions, while three cases are still pending.
Robert Kingsolver’s case is one of the latter. The 49-year-old service manager was arrested during an undercover operation in Lake County back in February, dubbed Operation “Be Mine.” Similar to the popular TV show “To Catch A Predator,” detectives from the Lake County Sheriff’s Cyber Crime Unit posed as children in online chat rooms. The “children” then made arrangements to meet the suspects in person, at which point the sexual predators were trapped and arrested by Lake County detectives lying in wait at a vacant house in Clermont.
Kingsolver has pleaded not guilty, despite being caught by undercover detectives during Be Mine. Detectives say he was attempting to meet and have sex with what he thought would be a 14-year-old girl.
He says his family can vouch for his character.
“They love me. My kids know me, and they know how much I care for kids,” Kingsolver says. “They know that their dad is not somebody that will go out and hurt a young child. They know their dad is somebody that would go out and protect a young child at any cost.”
“The defendant specifically stated he would perform oral sex when referring to what he was going to do with the 14-year-old child,” police say.
Kingsolver is less than optimistic about his current state of affairs. “My life is ruined,” he laments. “My family’s life is ruined. My kids’ life is ruined. I’ve devastated my parents because of bad judgment.”
Operation Be Mine was conducted in February. An additional bust called Operation “Cyber Child III” was carried out earlier this month.
“I Love Kids and Not in a Bad Way”
Robert Kingsolver is not the only offender to be trapped in such a manner, nor the only suspect to insist on innocence. Fellow Disney employee Patrick Holgerson, aged 32, was also snared by Be Mine last winter.
Police records state that Holgerson contacted a detective whom he mistook for a 13-year-old boy, sending the “boy” naked photos of himself and making sexually explicit remarks during their conversations. Upon being apprehended, Holgerson attempted (and failed) to flee the scene.
Nonetheless, he later pleaded not guilty, stating, “I work with kids. I love kids and not in a bad way. I just have a strong connection with kids. I like working with kids. I just enjoy helping them grow and that’s why I’ve been working with high schools for so long is because a lot of these kids look up to me… I would never do anything with the kid, I promise. I didn’t want him hurt. And I’m being honest here.”
Of course, Disney has issued statements insisting on rigorous safety procedures. In the words of spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler, “We have extensive measures in place, including pre-employment and ongoing criminal background checks and computer monitoring and firewalls.”
While Wahler’s words may be true, the fact still remains that these “extensive measures” failed to screen dozens of sexual predators.
It is perhaps one of the more disturbing details of the case that several of the crimes actually took place on Disney grounds. Pastor Cedric Cuthbert, for example, was arrested for watching child pornography while at the park — during his shift.
“you are so cute!” he reportedly messaged one girl (original grammar preserved). “Great sexy bodi! Send me a private vid.”
And the operations aren’t over yet.
“We are going to continue to conduct these investigations to protect our children from sexual predators,” says Sheriff Judd, “and from those who trade and download child pornography.”
Sexual abuse is one of the most atrocious and life-altering ordeals a child can go through. If you suspect your child may have been hurt by an employee of Disney World, SeaWorld, or Universal Studios, your family deserves justice. To schedule a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call the amusement park accident lawyers of Reiff & Bily at (800) 861-6708, or contact us online today.