Youth coach arrested on sex charge

Published December 28, 2006

TAMPA - When Hillsbourgh County workers examined Lee Arthur Chavis' criminal background, they denied his request to coach youth football.

Chavis, a 31-year-old Thonotosassa man with seven arrests, asked them to reconsider in September, pleading his case to an appeals committee. Leaders of the Temple Terrace Youth Sports Association decided to give him a chance - and a head coaching position.

Then on Dec. 21, Chavis was arrested for the eighth time, accused of having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl he met through a phone chat service, said St. Petersburg police spokesman George Kajtsa.

Chavis was booked into the Pinellas County jail on a charge of lewd and lascivious molestation, state records show, and released the same day on $25,000 bail.

"I'm quite sure that she's not the only one that he's done this to," said the girl's mother.

The names of the girl and her mother are withheld because of the nature of the charges.

The girl's mother says Chavis lied to her daughter about his age, telling her he was 16. Her mother found out about the relationship after the girl, a high school freshman, wrote out a list of baby names, each ending with the last name "Chavis."

Chavis did not return a call for comment. Jail records list his occupation as auto detailer. Earlier jail records give his occupation as an adviser at the financial firm T. Rowe Price, and before that as a Verizon manager.

He began coaching two years ago, said Ricky Hayhurst, president of the Temple Terrace Youth Sports Association.

In 2005, Chavis was an assistant coach. In 2006, he was head coach of the Jaguars, a team of 7- and 8-year-old boys. He had a son on the team, which ended its season without a win.

The county's Parks and Recreation Department annually checks criminal backgrounds for coaches because the teams use county facilities, said David Fountain, the department's human services manager.

"I had said that he shouldn't be allowed to coach," Fountain said. "It was either because of his past criminal history or because he failed to disclose it."

In October, a similar appeals committee in Plant City angered county officials by reinstating convicted felon Armand Cotnoir as coach of a Plant City team.

Cotnoir, 31, a former Plant City police officer, served 14 months in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2002 to conspiracy to deprive civil rights, deprivation of civil rights, obstruction of justice and five counts of mail fraud.

Chavis has been arrested seven times in Florida since 1998, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The charges include aggravated battery on a pregnant woman, grand theft and traffic offenses, records show. He has not been convicted on any of the charges.

But Hayhurst said the county's background check does not cover civil cases.

Records from the Hillsborough Domestic Relations Court show Chavis is being sued for thousands of dollars in unpaid child support by different women, and is also the defendant in more than one paternity suit.

Nearly 250 kids participate in the association's programs, but Chavis would not have been alone with any kids, Hayhurst said. He said he was confident the children were safe.

Chavis did not plan to return for a third season because his son lived closer to a different football organization, Hayhurst said.

"He loved coaching, he loved being out there with the kids," Hayhurst said.

Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 813 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.