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Bail set at $100,000 for YMCA employee

The former CEO again defends the man facing sex-related charges: "I would trust Chris with my own children.''

By CURTIS KRUEGER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


LARGO -- Christopher Lee Allen had been accused -- but not yet cleared -- of lewd acts on two young girls when the St. Petersburg Family YMCA hired him to work with youths three years ago, a former YMCA official testified Tuesday.

But John Cannon, former YMCA president and CEO, believed so strongly in his young hire that he traveled to South Carolina in 1997 to testify as a character witness for him. Allen later was acquitted.

Cannon sat on the witness stand once again Tuesday to defend the 26-year-old Allen, who now stands accused of sex-related charges against six Pinellas County children.

"I would trust Chris with my own children . . . or grandchildren," Cannon said.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Richard Luce on Tuesday set a $100,000 bail for Allen, who had been held at the Pinellas County Jail without bail since turning himself in to authorities on May 14.

Luce said he was influenced by the four relatives of two of the named victims testifying they don't believe the charges against Allen. Three of the family members -- a mother, father and aunt -- came to court and said they don't believe Allen really abused the children. The fourth, a mother, submitted a sworn statement that was read in court.

Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery had argued for a high bail after sheriff's Detective Matthew Miller testified that Allen had called one of the girls after she talked to authorities. He said Allen "has the classic signs of being a pedophile."

"I'm very pleased," defense attorney Anthony S. Battaglia said after the judge's decision Tuesday. "I'm very grateful to the court and to justice."

Allen hugged his wife and broke into tears after the judge's decision.

Battaglia said he expected Allen would be released on bail sometime today. He is charged with two counts of capital sexual battery and four counts of lewd and lascivious behavior.

As part of the conditions of his release, Allen is not to have any "direct or indirect" contact with any of the six children in the case; he is not allowed to have any unlawful contact with a child younger than 16; and if he does have any interaction with children, it must be under the supervision of either his parents or his wife. He has turned in his passport and cannot leave Pinellas County without permission.

Cannon, who has retired from the YMCA, said Allen is an extremely dedicated person "who gives 100 percent of himself to everything he does."

Cannon said Allen's zeal and sense of mission about helping children reminded him of his own days as a young priest in New York City. "He was the first one I would say that about." He called Allen a "Father Flanagan" type.

He said that before Allen was hired, the YMCA ran the usual background checks, and knew that the South Carolina case was pending. But the checks showed nothing prohibiting him by law from being hired to work with children.

Cannon said that case could not be considered an absolute reason not to hire Allen -- "otherwise we'd be discriminating against him."

He also said Allen was fastidious about showing up for all his court appearances in that case, even though he had moved to St. Petersburg -- a relevant point, since one of the factors a judge considers in a bail hearing is whether the suspect may flee.

In the South Carolina case, Allen was arrested in 1995 and accused of fondling two girls, one 12 and one 13. The first trial ended in a mistrial, and he was acquitted in a second trial.

Miller, the Pinellas detective, testified that after Allen's recent arrest, sheriff's officials obtained a search warrant and went to the St. Petersburg apartment he shares with his wife. They looked for a computer on which they believed they would find pictures of young girls in T-shirts and underwear.

The monitor and modem were present, but not the computer itself. "It was like somebody took the box, the computer itself," Miller said. When he asked Allen's wife, Jennifer, about it, "she said no it wasn't stolen, but she didn't know where it was."

Miller also testified that Allen had called an 11-year-old girl who is named as a victim in the case after she talked to authorities but before Allen had been arrested. Allen told her "he was sorry and he asked her not to testify," Miller said.

Loughery also submitted to the court written copies of two statements by victims about the allegations of abuse.

One mother of an alleged victim said the relatives decided to speak out "because it's not true what they say." She said her 11-year-old daughter denied being a victim. The mother said she did not consider Allen a danger to the community, and said her three daughters had spent the night at the Allens' two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with a total of as many as 10 kids several times.

"I know it's not true," she said.

The father of another alleged victim said he knew Allen didn't abuse his three kids. "He'd always play with all three children," said the man, who is a Pinellas County school bus driver. "I never had seen him do nothing."

When he asked his daughter about Allen after the allegations were made about him, "all she told me was that "He tickled me, and he never did anything wrong.' "

Allen's father, who is paying for his son's defense, also spoke on his behalf Tuesday.

-- Times staff writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or krueger@sptimes.com.

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