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    Prosecutors: YMCA worker preyed on kids

    As a trial opens, Christopher Lee Allen's lawyers paint him as a true friend to troubled children.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 25, 2002

    LARGO -- Lawyers for Christopher Lee Allen say he was a surrogate parent for dozens of children who came to the YMCA outreach program that he directed at a low-income Pinellas Park housing complex.

    They were children from troubled homes, many with parents who simply didn't care.

    "They essentially had nothing to do but to get in trouble," said Anthony Battaglia, Allen's attorney.

    And if Allen occasionally hugged these children and showered them with physical affection, "He did it to give these children some trust and security," Battaglia said. "Christopher Allen was a touchy, friendly, feely guy."

    But in opening statements Thursday in Allen's trial on two charges of sexual battery on a child under 12, that version of an affectionate, caring father figure was challenged by prosecutors who say Allen was a classic pedophile in a target-rich environment.

    Allen, 27, who is free on bail during a trial that may last more than a week, faces life in prison on each of the two charges.

    Prosecutor Bill Loughery told jurors that Allen befriended an 11-year-old girl from a troubled family at the French Villas apartment complex, bestowing attention and gifts on her that included jewelry and clothing.

    Allen became increasingly obsessed with the child in early 2000 in a rising tide of physical affection, the prosecutor said. When he bought her clothing, Allen put notes in all the pockets, some saying "I love you," Loughery said.

    Some people witnessed Allen passionately kissing the girl on the mouth "not as a father, daughter. Like a boyfriend, girlfriend," Loughery said.

    The girl spent numerous nights sleeping over at Allen's apartment, where he lived with his wife, Jennifer Allen, who was his YMCA supervisor.

    Sheriff's investigators began looking into the relationship and confronted the girl, who admitted to them that Allen had fondled her, Loughery said.

    Other children are expected to testify during the trial about inappropriate physical contact they say Allen had with them, Loughery said.

    Battaglia said the girl lied about the contact with Allen because she wanted to move back in with her mother after stints in a shelter and with a foster mother.

    The girl felt abandoned by Allen, Battaglia said, and struck out at him by making up the allegation.

    He said the girl had a crush on Allen and often initiated physical contact. Battaglia said she demanded more and more from him, more gifts and more attention.

    "She did what she had to do to survive, even if that meant somebody else was going to be unfairly accused," Battaglia said.

    Allen also worked for the YMCA at an after-school program for children at St. Petersburg's Maximo Elementary School, though his tenure there is not part of the criminal case being tried this week.

    He still faces a separate trial on three charges of lewd and lascivious behavior later this year for acts toward other children in YMCA programs.

    The YMCA hired Allen even after he was charged with lewd conduct with children in South Carolina. Allen was acquitted of charges there in 1997, after the YMCA hired him in Pinellas.

    The girl Allen is accused of fondling in the current case is expected to testify today.

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