Boy sues foster dad and Broward child groups over alleged sex abuse

Date: 2015-03-06

By Paula McMahon

year-old boy was sexually abused by his foster father after two Broward County child welfare groups failed to conduct proper background checks on the man, according to allegations in a civil lawsuit filed this week.

Lawyers for the boy say that ChildNet, Inc. and Kids In Distress, Inc. failed to do adequate investigations of John Michael McGuigan before granting him a foster care license.

Officials could have easily discovered several troubling allegations about McGuigan's past that would have made him ineligible, the boy's lawyer, Howard Talenfeld, said Wednesday.

McGuigan also lied about aspects of his background that should have been uncovered by an appropriate screening, he said.

"There were very significant red flags," Talenfeld said.

McGuigan resigned as head of Broward House, the service center for people with HIV and other medical problems, in 2012 amid controversy about the foster care allegations.

The boy, now 12, is referred to only by his initials in Broward Circuit Court records. He was placed in McGuigan's care in August 2010.

A Broward judge removed the boy and other adopted and foster children from the home in May 2011 after a man contacted law enforcement and said McGuigan sexually abused him many years earlier in Massachusetts.

McGuigan's application to become a foster parent in Broward County in May 2008 included several false statements, including claiming that he and family members had never been accused of child sex abuse, Talenfeld said.

According to the lawsuit, records show McGuigan was accused of sexual contact with a child and McGuigan's father, John J. "Sean" McGuigan, was imprisoned for child molestation.

McGuigan, 49 at the time, also wrote that he had no prior romantic relationships and concealed a long-term relationship that had ended, the lawsuit alleges.

McGuigan, now 56, would never have qualified to be a foster parent if authorities had completed full criminal history checks with police departments where McGuigan resided, Talenfeld wrote in the lawsuit.

Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale police had investigated reports that McGuigan approached an underage boy, showed him pornographic pictures and asked him to perform sex acts. No criminal charges were filed. McGuigan had also had been arrested on a cocaine possession charge in Boca Raton.

McGuigan, who lived in Margate at the time and now lives in Massachussets, has never been charged with any related crime, records show. Efforts to contact him were unsuccessful and his former lawyer, Larry S. Davis, no longer represents him.

Talenfeld said the alleged abuse victim continues to suffer very serious emotional problems.

The child did not report the allegations until he felt safe, months after he was removed from McGuigan's home, Talenfeld said. A criminal case against McGuigan might have been tough to prosecute, partly because he passed a polygraph test, Talenfeld said.

Officials from the state Department of Children and Families declined to comment Wednesday because of the lawsuit. Officials from ChildNet, which manages Broward child welfare programs for the state under contract, did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Kids in Distress, a subcontractor for ChildNet, wrote in an email that the group could not "share any additional information regarding allegations due to confidentiality regulations." The agency will comply with any investigations, Lesli Cartaya Franco added.

There were prior causes for concern about McGuigan's suitability, Talenfeld said.

A few months after McGuigan received his foster parent license in June 2008, authorities sent a 7-year-old boy named Gabriel Myers to live with him.

Gabriel, a victim of prior sexual abuse, was removed from the home in March 2009 after his behavior seriously deteriorated during his six-month stay.

Gabriel killed himself on April 16, 2009, in the new foster home. A state report on the child's death criticized several aspects of how the state treated him and criticized McGuigan's punishment of Gabriel.

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