TAMPA, Fla. — Two Tampa Bay area attorneys are describing the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area as a “breeding ground” for the sexual abuse 51-year-old Ehab Moustafa Ghoneim is accused of.
“This is one of the hardest cases for an attorney to take on," said Sam Badawi. "We have interviewed the client, his family, and it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Badawi and Cory Baird filed a lawsuit that claims Sligh Mosque, as many in the area refer to it, was made aware by concerned parents of potential abuse by the youth director toward multiple boys.
Badawi says his client, who was 15 at the time and is being referred to as John Doe 1, told him Ghoneim sexually abused him at Ghoneim’s home in Pinellas County.
He also says the abuse happened during overnight, out-of-town field trips facilitated by the mosque.
“Ehab would offer kids pills to help them sleep, but these pills were sedatives in order for Ehab to gain sexual advantage over John Doe while he’s asleep," said Badawi.
Badawi says, instead of looking into parents' concerns or following some sort of internal protocol, the mosque simply moved Ghoneim to another position.
“They’re new to America to a new society and they trusted the fundamentals they know from the motherland which is the mosque. And that failed them. They’re shattered, they’re broken, they’re speechless, they’re mad," Badawi said.
The FBI took Ghoneim into custody on August 6 after the Pinellas Park Police Department began its investigation in March. Police ultimately charged him with three counts of unlawful sexual activity with minors.
A spokesperson for the Mosque did not answer when ABC Action News Reporter Heather Leigh asked about those parents' concerns and what leadership did when they heard them. Instead, they offered a statement that says in part, “At the time he was a volunteer who helped in organizing Halaqas with a group of youths from our local community. All activities were monitored by our Imams who also attended many of the field trips.”
They say once they were made aware of the investigation, the mosque barred him from the property and demanded he has no contact with any of the youth attending the mosque. They say background checks are done on people who work on campus and interact with their youth.
Both Attorneys and the Pinellas Park Police Department do think there are more victims and encourage them to come forward with more information.
“I think if you do the math and exposure rate of how many boys circulated through that youth program and he was it, he was it for five years. So one would assume the number is in double digits," said Badawi.
"If your child was at the mosque and was a part of these events in this youth program you’ve got to approach your child," said Baird. "Talk about it and be open about it, let them know it’s absolutely OK for them to say everything they can to their folks."
Read the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area's full response:
"Reference current turmoil in the community regarding the arrest and ongoing investigation of Br. Ehab Ghoneim and the victim’s statement.
A few months ago, the management at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area, had learned of an ongoing investigation of Br. Ehab.
At the time he was a volunteer who helped in organizing Halaqas with a group of youths from our local community. All activities were monitored by our Imams who also attended many of the field trips. The investigation did not involve any activities on ISTABA’s grounds/property. The investigation involved activities that took place in Pinellas County.
We like to inform the community that at the time when ISTABA learned of the activities (approximately four months ago) ISTABA took the following actions. First, Mr. Ghoneim was barred from entering the property of the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area. Second, it was demanded to have no contact with any of the youth that attended ISTABA. Finally, we contacted the investigating authority in Pinellas County to facilitate the investigation.
As of today, ISTABA is taking a position to allow the authorities to take every opportunity to complete their investigation and uncover the truth. We ask the community that has any information to come forward and contact the Pinellas County Police Department.
Allah swt only know the complete truth better than anyone else. We ask Allah swt to have Mercy on all involved. We want to ensure our community that complete background checks are conducted on all individuals that interact with our youth, students and Sisters that work and interact on our campus."
Press release from Pinellas Park Police Department:
"In March 2021 the Pinellas Park Police Department received information that subject Ehab Ghoneim had engaged in unlawful sexual acts with minors at his residence in Pinellas Park. A subsequent investigation revealed Ghoneim met his victims while he volunteered as the Youth Director at a mosque in the Tampa Bay area. While the detectives have been able to locate and identify at least five victims to date, it is believed there may be more.
In partnership with the United States Marshals Service and United States Customs, Ghoneim was taken into custody in Chicago as he returned to the U.S. from Egypt. Ehab Ghoneim will ultimately be extradited to Pinellas County. He has been charged with three counts of unlawful sexual activity with minors.
Ehab Ghoneim also has ties to a mosque in the New Jersey area. Any persons having information regarding this subject is asked to contact the Pinellas Park Police Department at (727) 369-7864."