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YMCA plumbs opinion on charged worker

A letter encourages people to speak up, good or bad, about the employee accused of molestation.

By CURTIS KRUEGER and JANE MEINHARDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- While its community outreach director faces sexual assault charges, the St. Petersburg Family YMCA is pledging to cooperate fully with the criminal investigation -- but also soliciting expressions of support for its jailed worker.

In a letter mailed to parents in the French Villas apartments and the Lealman YMCA, where Christopher Lee Allen worked, YMCA president and CEO Doug Linder wrote:

"Certainly, if someone feels Chris has harmed them, we would want them to tell authorities. However, I know many of you believe in Chris, and the things he has done for Lealman and French Villas. I would ask that you also speak up."

Asked if the letter was intended in any way to discount the allegations against Allen, Linder said, "absolutely not. That was not my intention at all."

Linder said he was prompted to include that in his letter after a sheriff's sergeant asked him if he had been hearing expressions of support for Allen.

Bill Stover, chairman of the YMCA's board, had not seen the letter. When a reporter read it to him over the phone on Tuesday, he said it sounded fine to him.

"Yes, I think that positive should be solicited as well as negative," Stover said.

The letter also points out that Allen has been suspended while facing these "serious charges" and says that "the YMCA is cooperating fully with authorities during the investigation."

It says the Y's top priority is children and that, "while we know Chris is innocent until proven guilty, we want to make sure that everyone feels they can come forward at this time."

The letter says the Y will provide counseling to any child who needs it, and urges parents to call 895-9622 to arrange it.

Allen was arrested Sunday and charged with sexually assaulting two 11-year-old girls and fondling a third. He met the girls while working in his YMCA job with children from the Lealman area, specifically in the French Villas apartment complex of the Pinellas Housing Authority.

Before coming to the St. Petersburg YMCA, Allen had been charged in South Carolina with two counts of a lewd act on a 12-year-old child. He was acquitted in 1997 of those charges, and told the YMCA about them when he came to work there about two years ago.

Stover and Linder both came to the YMCA after Allen was hired. The Y's previous president, John C. Cannon, declined to comment Tuesday.

Stover said he had been aware that there had been some sort of "incident" in South Carolina, but could not remember exactly when he had been told about it. He said he did not know that the offense was for something so serious, and that if he had, he would have been more deeply concerned about Allen.

But he also pointed out that because of Allen's acquittal, "He was a not-guilty person, so you couldn't carry that forward anyway."

Stover said he was sure the Allen matter would be discussed by the board soon.

Steve Anderson, a member of the YMCA board, said he would like the board to discuss carefully how closely to scrutinize the organization's employees in such cases.

Allen was an energetic, enthusiastic youth worker who had recently come under scrutiny for what Linder called operational issues. Linder said he counseled Allen to close the branch YMCA at a regular time and not to show favoritism to different youths.

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