The Spanish Action League has hired Jesus Rolon, a former Syracuse City School District teacher who pled guilty in 2012 to a charge related to sexual conduct with a minor, as executive assistant to the agency’s director, Rita Paniagua.
Rolon has been working as a housing specialist for the organization for the past year and assumed his new position on Friday, April 25. According to Paniagua, he has not had unsupervised contact with minors while working for the agency and will not be allowed to be alone with young people in his new position.
According to the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office, Rolon pleaded guilty in August 2012 to a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child. Rolon was arrested in September 2011 after two underage inmates at the Syracuse Justice Center accused him of having engaged them in sexual activity. At the time, Rolon was 34 and was assigned by the school district to teach English as a second language to inmates. He was charged with a first-degree criminal sexual act, endangering the welfare of a child, first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child and patronizing a prostitute.
In his plea, Rolon admitted to engaging in oral sex with one of the boys, who at the time was under 17, the legal age of consent in New York. Under the terms of the plea deal, Rolon agreed to surrender his teaching certification. His name was not placed on the state’s list of registered sex offenders, because endangering is not a reportable offense. He was sentenced to three years’ probation in October 2012. In March, he was released from probation by County Court Judge Thomas Miller.
The Spanish Action League — also known by its Spanish name, La Liga — is at 700 Oswego St., on the Near West Side. It provides services to the county’s Spanish-speaking community, including youth programs. The Nuestro Futuro (Our Future) program, is an after-school program for children aged 5 through 12.
In a statement sent via email on Monday, April 21, Paniagua said that Rolon has been an “exemplary employee” who is “deserving of an opportunity for a fresh start in life.” She noted that in his decision to end Rolon’s probation, Miller had concluded that, among other issues, “termination of the sentence of probation is not adverse to the protection of the public.”
According to the judge’s clerk, David Rothschild, the judge’s involvement in Rolon’s case was limited to approving the petition of the Probation Department. The petition indicated that Rolon was offered an opportunity for advancement at his place of employment and further mentioned that he had submitted to a sex offender evaluation, which determined that he was not in need for further treatment as a sex offender. Alvaro Garza, the president of the league’s board, La Liga staff contacted his probation officer when Rolon’s promotion was being considered and were told that there were no restrictions on his employment.
Several local social workers with long experience in personnel matters find it troubling that a person with a conviction for such a crime is working in an agency serving youth. Mitchell Jaffe is a therapist in private practice who served from 2001 until 2011 as the executive director of Syracuse Jewish Family Service. He was asked if he would consider hiring someone with a conviction for a sexual crime involving a minor for a position with his agency.
“Absolutely not,” Jaffe replied.
An executive director at another large social service agency, who requested anonymity, said that agency policy is to deny employment to anyone convicted of a crime of a sexual nature because “the risks far outweigh any other considerations about hiring. As far as our obligation to protect children and vulnerable populations, I do not think we have any other option.”
Other social service agency heads, speaking on background, said that their agencies do not have blanket policies prohibiting such a hire but would review the case based on the person’s history and would have a detailed “safety plan” in place to keep the employee away from contact with minors.” He declined further comment when asked for details of a safety plan.
In an email, Garza wrote that “Mr. Rolon’s job responsibilities did not and will not place him in contact with minors.” He declined further comment when asked for details of a safety plan. Rick Trunfio is the first chief assistant district attorney in county district attorney’s office. He served as the first head of the Special Victims Bureau in the county prosecutor’s office.
“Any time anybody had committed conduct that puts a minor or a child at risk, there is always a concern that the person does not have access to children,” he said in a phone interview.
Does that concern diminish once that term has been served?
“No,” said Trunfio, “there is always a risk. You don’t have to be a prosecutor sitting in my chair to answer that.”
“Endangering the welfare of a child is not a registrable offense,” said Trunfio, “but it is a conviction that speaks for itself.”
Rolon, says Trunfio, was accused of a Class E felony. The misdemeanor plea deal was arranged because “we had an uncooperative victim, who did not want to get on the stand.” In New York, youths under the age of 17 cannot legally consent to sexually activity, even if they say they are willing, he said.
In his email, Garza wrote, “The mission of the Spanish Action League is to build on the rich cultural heritage of the Latino community by advancing its independence and growth through advocacy, counseling and education. As such, we believe in giving people opportunities for rehabilitation and a fresh start in their lives, so that they can be fully productive members of society. As confirmed by the Onondaga County Court, Mr. Rolon is deserving of such an opportunity for a fresh start in life.”
The “Tipping Point” In The Struggle Against Child Abuse
“One in 10 children in Central New York will become a victim of sexual abuse before they turn 18.” That’s the frightening statistic offered up by a coalition of local agencies who are issuing a public challenge to all adults in Central New York.
Here’s the good news, say advocates: “Child sexual abuse can be stopped before it starts. All it takes is one adult who knows the signs and is willing and able to do the right thing.”
Because 93 percent of sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by a family member or someone else who the child trusts, educating adults about how to recognize signs of abuse is key to the approach.
To that end, the YMCA and McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center are launching an abuse prevention program called “Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children.” They have trained 1,100 people, but that is just the beginning. According to a YMCA news release, “the Central New York Darkness to Light Collaboration plans to ignite behavior change by training a critical mass of 18,000 adults — 5 percent of the adult population — in Onondaga County by 2020.”
“If you’re an adult in Central New York, you need to take this course,” said Linda Cleary, executive director of the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center. You have the power to save a child – maybe your own – from the lifetime of pain that child sexual abuse can cause.”
To learn more, contact Janice Timmons, at McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center, at 315-701-2985 or [email protected]
Anyone who suspects that a child is being abused should immediately call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-342-3720. SNT