USF arts worker faces 7 counts

The 61-year-old man is arrested on molestation charges involving two girls.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 12, 2007

TAMPA - A University of South Florida fine arts staff member has been arrested and accused of molesting two girls, one of whom was a relative, according to an arrest report.

Thomas Joseph Lewis, 61, of 14716 Laurel Lake Lane in Lutz, faces seven counts of lewd or lascivious molestation of a victim under 18, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Lewis, who is also known as "Sparky," is accused of inappropriately touching the girls on Sept. 1 at 9 p.m. One girl, 14, is a relative.

The other girl was spending the night at the Lewis home. The incident happened as he was massaging the legs and feet of both victims, deputies say.

The girls' names and other identifying information is being withheld because of the nature of the charges.

On jail records, Lewis listed his employer as USF. He was hired by the university in April 1986 and works as a fine arts production specialist in the school's theater department, which means he designs sets and backdrops for school productions.

University spokeswoman Lara Wade said Lewis has no history of discipline problems. His annual salary is $38,212. Wade said Lewis does have contact with students, but it's limited.

On Tuesday, the university placed Lewis on leave, pending the investigation. Wade said Lewis will be required to use the leave time he has accrued over the years. After that runs out, administrators will re-evaluate the leave, she said.

He was arrested at 12:11 a.m. Tuesday, jail records show. He was released from jail after posting $52,500 bail.

He did not immediately return a call for comment.

Lewis has no prior criminal record in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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