Groping in the Dark

Luis Mota was 15 years old when he first met Raul Caffesse, a friend of his parents'. He would become Mota's own companion and mentor in his rise up the periodontal research ranks.

Both Mota's parents are periodontists; his father was dean of the periodontal school at Central University Venezuela in Caracas. Caffesse befriended them at a conference and through the years had dinner and drinks at their home.

When Mota finished his graduate studies in 1993, Caffesse helped him land an assistant professor position at the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center, where Caffesse was acting dean. Mota did the same research as Caffesse and remembers his boss telling him that he had the potential to chair a department. Mota and his brother took Caffesse's daughters to the Phil Collins concert, went to their pool parties and had Thanksgiving dinner at their home.

Mota felt like Caffesse was family -- another father, since his own was far away.

So Mota, sitcom-star attractive with dark chocolate eyes and a broad smile, thought nothing of them sharing a hotel room for a 1996 research conference in Monterrey, Mexico. He trusted his senior colleague, until he awoke during that trip feeling breath on his neck and unfamiliar arms reaching around him.

Caffesse wrapped Mota in a bear hug, his hands stroking Mota's chest, moving lower, pulling down Mota's blue sweatpants, Mota remembers.

Shocked, Mota tried to shove him away. Caffesse told him to relax.

"I just want to get to know you better," Mota remembers him saying. "Do you like to suck?"

That moment in the dark did more than kill Mota's feelings of trust, respect and friendship -- the resulting recriminations, alleged retaliation and ruined career track evolved into the first same-sex harassment trial in Texas.

"It's kinda like an odd twist to the movie The Graduate, instead this time it's Mr. Robinson," says one of Mota's attorneys, John Zavitsanos.

Mota says Caffesse made his initial overtures the night they arrived in Monterrey. Caffesse sat next to Mota on his bed as he looked through his slides for a presentation he was giving in the morning, Mota says. Caffesse touched his arm and his leg, Mota recalls.

You and I are very alike, Mota remembers Caffesse saying.

Mota is gay.

When Caffesse's hand crept up Mota's thigh, Mota jumped up and ran to the foot of the bed and said he wasn't interested.

The second night in the hotel room Caffesse wanted to sit on his bed and talk. Mota said he was stressed and wanted to sleep. The third night Mota didn't want to go back to the room. He stayed out until 2 a.m. then paced the lobby, and then the hall. Then he woke up with Caffesse's breath on his back. Mota remembers saying no, leave me alone, until Caffesse went back to his own bed. Mota lay awake as Caffesse told him he should get married to a woman, like he had.

In the morning Caffesse burst in while Mota was taking a shower and tried to lather him up. He said he needed to take a shower too.

Caffesse warned Mota never to tell anyone what had happened. No one would believe Mota, he said. Caffesse was a prestigious professor who was married with children, Mota was single and gay -- others would say he wanted it and started it. Caffesse told Mota that his parents would be very upset with him if they found out, and if they found out he was gay. Not wanting to lose his job and believing Caffesse when he said it wouldn't happen again, Mota kept quiet.

On their next academic trip together, Mota made sure to lock the bathroom door. On another trip, Caffesse asked him to cuddle. Mota came home a day early.

For their next conference, Mota made plans to room with another colleague at another hotel. He says Caffesse threatened him. He says Caffesse called him and called him, and when he wouldn't talk he came to his house and said that if his daughter wanted to marry Mota, he'd be honored. And that way he and Mota could travel together and no one would suspect anything.

Mota disconnected his phone to avoid Caffesse's calls. He avoided traveling with Caffesse until Caffesse promised that he would leave him alone and wouldn't touch him again. Mota tape-recorded that phone call.

At a conference in Orlando, Florida, Mota says, he woke up in the middle of the night to see Caffesse propped up on pillows, masturbating and moaning. Mota pulled the blankets up to his ears and prayed that he would stop. He woke up that morning with Caffesse standing over him, sticking his finger in his ear.

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Wendy Grossman
Contact: Wendy Grossman