Boy's 'boss' accused of abuse
Police arrest a man they suspect abused a 10-year-old they say he hired to sell drugs.
By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published August 3, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG — The 10 year-old boy wanted a job so he could save enough money to buy a go-cart.
When he skipped out to play with friends, his boss punished him viciously.
His boss, police say, was a suspected drug dealer who had the boy peddling drugs on a street corner. When the boy left his post, the man burned the youngster’s face with cigarettes — more than 50 times in one week. He also burned the boy’s shoulders and lower back, police said.
On Wednesday, St. Petersburg police arrested Robert Bligen, 46, on a charge of aggravated child abuse. Police say he may have employed other children and abused them as well. Bligen was being held at the Pinellas County Jail on $50,000 bail.
Bligen has a criminal record in Florida that reaches back more than 20 years and includes several arrests on drug-related charges such as cocaine and marijuana possession.
Priscilla Williams, the boy’s mother, said her son was “still kind of afraid for his life” despite Bligen’s arrest.
“He tortured him,” Williams said.
She said Bligen abused other children in the neighborhood, but many of them remain too scared to tell their parents about it: “They think their child was in a fight, and this man was beating up on them.”
Neighbors described Bligen as an odd man who wandered the streets mumbling to himself. They say he didn’t like people and would cross over to the other side of the street if someone approached him.
“We all knew he wasn’t right in the head,” said Gloria Whitehead, 34, a neighbor. “It’s so scary. How could he do something like that to a kid?”
The boy has been treated and released from All Children’s Hospital, but will bear the scars of abuse on his face for life.
Videotape obtained by the Times shows the boy’s face and body badly scarred by the burns. The Times is not publishing any photos because of the child’s age.
Police say they’re stunned that someone would involve such a young child in the drug trade.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen one 10 years old before,” said spokesman William Proffitt.
Proffitt said police officers were shocked when they found a boy, his face covered with burns and open sores.
The horrible abuse case could bring more attention to the lingering crime problems in Childs Park.
Mayor Rick Baker recently announced a revitalization program that will include loans to homebuyers.
“I can’t even imagine it,” said Pastor Louis Murphy of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.
“It’s something that just lets me know the sickness, the illness, that exists. This demonic structure that’s happening because of drugs.”
The boy, who is not being named because of his age, began working for Bligen in late July, police said. He told police he was given a white powder, and instructed to sell it in the alley or curb near his home to pedestrians and drivers.
But the youth went off to play with friends. Police say Bligen punished him with the lit cigarettes.
When the boy’s mother asked him about the injuries, he told her that he’d just gotten into fights with others in the neighborhood, police said.
The boy’s grandmother later saw the injuries and called police.
Police were alarmed when they came to the boy’s house and saw his face covered with open sores. He could barely talk.
At first, the boy denied anyone had abused him and repeated the claim that he had been in scraps with other kids.
He eventually relented and told officers about the abuse. Later, he led police to Bligen, according to an arrest affidavit.
Police are asking anyone with information about other potential victims to call (727) 893-7780.
- Times correspondent Eamonn Kneeshaw, reporter Andrea Chang and researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at (727) 893-8472.
[Last modified August 3, 2006, 22:44:15]
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