Abuse by Bryan long rumored
Some say they had heard tales of sexual improprieties for decades.
By CHRIS TISCH, ABHI RAGHUNATHAN and CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writers
Published September 9, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - Friends and colleagues of City Councilman John Bryan were shocked by sex abuse allegations that led to his suicide.
But not everyone was surprised.
Stories about Bryan's sexual indiscretions had been circulating for nearly two decades.
"I heard the rumors, but you never know if someone's out to get him or no," said Bill Dudley, who was in the Northeast Exchange Club with Bryan. "So I never paid much attention to them. You have to take rumors at face value."
Just as stunning as the rumors, perhaps, is that many of Bryan's closest associates say they never heard them.
Mayor Rick Baker said he didn't know of them.
Current police Chief Chuck Harmon and former police Chief Goliath Davis both said Saturday that they never heard any questions about Bryan's past.
"I wasn't made aware of any type of allegation against Mr. Bryan until this week," Harmon said.
Those who did hear them include Jerry Knight, St. Petersburg's one-time fire chief. He said he couldn't substantiate the rumors.
"I don't know that anybody knows," he said Saturday. "That's the whole issue."
Daniel Price, 77, who was part of a luncheon group with Bryan, also said he heard the gossip.
"The stories about Bryan flouting around with little girls have been abroad in the land for 15 years," Price said.
Former St. Petersburg Times reporter Jon Wilson said he also heard the speculation and looked into it while covering the 2001 city election.
Wilson, now retired from the newspaper, said he heard Bryan had an inappropriate relationship with his oldest adopted daughter.
Wilson said he made a few phone calls inquiring about the alleged sexual abuse. About 15 minutes into his work, Bryan called him.
"He said none of it was true," Wilson recalled.
Wilson said Bryan gave him the woman's phone number and urged him to call her. Wilson placed several calls to the woman, none of which she returned, he recalled.
Wilson said he performed standard background checks on Bryan and reviewed the file of his divorce from his first wife.
"I thought there was an awful lot of smoke, but we could just never find the fire," Wilson said Saturday.
Wilson recalled that most of the whispers came from City Hall outsiders.
Community activist and political gadfly Lorraine Margeson said she heard the rumors while working on Kathleen Ford's mayoral campaign in 2000.
"It was widely rumored that there were suspicions that Mr. Bryan had tendencies toward pedophilia," Margeson said. "I would find it hard to believe that no one else heard these rumors before, because they were widely discussed."
The rumors seemed to fade after Bryan won the election, Wilson said.
Only recently did they take on more substance.
Authorities recently learned of allegations that Bryan sexually abused his oldest adopted daughter, now 38, years ago. They also were told of accusations that more recently he sexually abused his other two adopted daughters, ages 12 and 15.
Family services officials held a hearing Friday morning, during which a judge ordered Bryan to have no contact with the children. St. Petersburg police also launched a criminal investigation.
Bryan admitted in court to a sexual relationship with his oldest daughter but said it occurred after she turned 18, courts spokesman Ron Stuart said.
Bryan resigned as council chairman, then took his life Friday at his second home in Floral City.
If the rumors were swirling in months or years past, City Councilman Herb Polson said he never heard them.
"I am absolutely shocked by the suggestion that any of those things took place," Polson said. "This is the first time I've heard any of this."
George Rahdert, a friend and political supporter, said Bryan never hinted at the trouble mounting in his life or indicated he knew of an ongoing investigation. He and Bryan had lunch a little more than two weeks ago.
"John was just the kind of guy who never looked like he had any big problems," said Rahdert, a developer and an attorney who also represents the St. Petersburg Times.
He added that he recalled hearing of "some whispers from political enemies" when Bryan first explored getting into politics, but nothing specific and nothing as horrible as sexual abuse.
Robert Skinner said he suspects there was something to the rumors.
Skinner, 45, worked as a foreman for Bryan's home construction business for four years in the early 1980s.
Skinner said Bryan bragged about sexual liaisons with high-priced prostitutes in Tampa.
Skinner said Bryan also made sexual advances toward young female employees and often pursued sexual relationships with women whose homes he built.
Skinner said Bryan did all this while he was married to his first wife.
"He did have a problem. He should have gotten help," Skinner said.
Still, Skinner said Bryan was a good man who treated him well. They vacationed and raced boats together. Skinner helped build the house in Floral City where Bryan ended his life Friday.
Skinner said he "loved him like a father."
"He also had this little dark side," he said.
Times staff writers Lane DeGregory, Neil Brown, Jacob H. Fries, Aaron Sharockman and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at email@example.com or 727 893-8472.
[Last modified September 8, 2007, 23:34:32]
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