Catholic Charities Accused of Covering Up Years of Sexual Abuse by Employees
The family of a child who was abused by an employee at Catholic Charities has filed a lawsuit claiming that the charity has a long, troubling history of covering up sexual assault cases.
The family of the victim filed the lawsuit last week, naming Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and Carlos Valera, a former program coordinator at the charity who is now serving a 7 year jail sentence for child sexual assault, as defendants.
The lawsuit claims the organization has shown "willful disregard for the well-being of others" and has covered up abuse at the charity for nearly a decade.
According to the family, Valera began abusing the 11-year-old boy in 2007, after they sought help from Catholic Charities following their immigration from Cuba.
During a November 2007 visit, Valera approached the young child in the lobby of the charity and offered him candy to lure him to his office. While in Valera's office, the man allegedly grabbed the child's wrists, forcing him to touch his genitals.
On a subsequent visit, Valera again offered the young boy candy to lure him to his office, where he forced the child to sit on his lap, and sexually assaulted him, according to the lawsuit. Valera allegedly told the boy his family would not receive assistance from Catholic Charities if he told them about the abuse.
Charges were filed against Valera in 2011 for the abuse, and he pleaded no contest to charges of indecency with a child in exchange for a 7-year prison sentence earlier this year.
Catholic Charities had been warned of Valera's behavior as early as 2005, the family claims in its lawsuit, after the mother of another young immigrant child reported to senior administration "that Valera had befriended a middle school aged boy who immigrated to Houston from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in late 2004."
According to the lawsuit, the family of Valera's other young victim told the Executive Director of Catholic Charities that Valera was keeping the boy out until late at night -- sometimes as late as 11 p.m. -- and had signed the boy up for a soccer league and helped the boy change schools against his mother's wishes.
The lawsuit also claims Valera also gave that boy rides in his car without permission and was taking the child to restaurants and other "fancy places."
Margaret Ayot, Valera's former coworker, told authorities that there were rumors about Valera when she started with Catholic Charities in 2006, and stated that she was told by at least three coworkers to keep Valera away from children, the lawsuit alleges. Ayot also told investigators that she had once intervened after Valera attempted to take a seven-year-old boy to the bathroom, telling him that the child "didn't need his help," court records state.
In addition to Valera, the family states that the charity has covered up other sexual assaults. The lawsuit notes the 2011 assault of a four-year-old boy who was raped at one of the organization' daycare centers in plain view of staff. The lawsuit claims at least three people witnessed the assault, but that daycare staff did not seek medical attention for the boy or report the incident until four days later.
Investigators subsequently found that staff had rewritten and intentionally left out material facts on incident reports about the assault, the lawsuit claims. Investigators, according to the lawsuit, stated that staff reports were "intentionally deceptive" and that investigators were "intentionally misled."
Director Bonna Koi resigned in 2012 after the staff at the daycare were cited for covering up the assault, the lawsuit states.
Catholic Charities issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying:
"Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston provides a comprehensive network of social services aimed at promoting and facilitating self-sufficiency. We offer support and opportunities that empower people and communities to grow and thrive.
In the course of caring for thousands of individuals, we periodically encounter challenges. In 2011, a former employee (who had been terminated by Catholic Charities in 2009) was arrested and charged for engaging in inappropriate behavior with a minor. Catholic Charities did not know about this young man's allegations until we received an inquiry from the Grand Jury. Catholic Charities fully cooperated with the investigation. The former employee was later sentenced to seven years in prison for his actions.
Due to ongoing litigation, no further comments may be provided at this time."
The family is seeking more than $1 million in damages.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.