TAMPA, Fla. — A former employee of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay was arrested after authorities say he sent explicit material to a teen.
Christopher Augusto Laracuente Cotto, 32, was arrested for allegedly engaging in this inappropriate contact with a teenage girl, who called the 211 hotline.
The nonprofit focuses on helping those who have had serious life trauma including sexual assault, domestic violence, suicidal thoughts, and emotional distress. The organization said Laracuente Cotto passed local law enforcement and other background checks before being hired and that he was with the organization for less than 60 days.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) said the inappropriate contact occurred March 28. The victim called 211 during a crisis, provided her contact information, and was told someone would call her back. A short time later, the victim received a call from a man identifying himself as an employee of the Crisis Center.
“After speaking with that victim over the phone, he then called her from a restricted cellphone number and began asking her very personal questions," HCSO spokesperson Crystal Clark said. "He was asking this teenager for her Instagram account, where he then followed her."
Detectives said the suspect eventually sent the victim explicit photos and videos and asked for photos of her.
The following day, the victim reported the crime to a resource officer at her school. HSCO investigated the matter and learned Laracuente Cotto was the employee in communication with the victim. In addition to being employed at Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, HCSO says he is also a volunteer worship leader at Iglesia Adoración Y Palabra Jesucristo Es El Señor located in Wesley Chapel, according to church pastors.
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Laracuente Cotto faces charges of transmission of harmful material to a minor and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.
"I cannot think of anything more despicable than taking advantage of a child during their time of crisis," Sheriff Chad Chronister said. "This individual abused his power, violated the trust of the victim, and equally as important, he violated the trust of his employer, a well-respected non-profit organization that helps tens of thousands of people in need every year. I strongly believe this individual is in no way a reflection of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay or the profoundly positive impact the center has made on the lives of children and adults in our community through the 211 hotline. I do not believe this incident should prevent anyone who is struggling from turning to the Crisis Center for help, and we continue to encourage our residents to do so."
Crisis Center said as soon as the inappropriate contact was confirmed, Laracuente Cotto was immediately fired. The organization said it is cooperating with HCSO as their investigation continues.
“We are deeply saddened by the actions of this former employee but thankful the victim had a resource available in the community that protected them," President & CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay Clara Reynolds said. "We are so sorry that a vulnerable person was hurt because it goes directly against what we work for every day.”
ABC Action News spoke to Reynolds about worries from the public over a breach of trust.
“I apologize. I apologize, and I guess I’m grateful to be able to say this is an anomaly. This isn’t something that happens every day, that we take this very seriously," Reynolds said. "If something like this can happen here, it can happen anywhere, and I am so proud of the young woman who reached out for help and that she was believed and that the process, the safety net was there for her, so I’m hopeful that anybody out there if they don’t feel comfortable calling us right now, that they just reach out somewhere and get the help and support that they need.”
The Crisis Center said it is thoroughly and expeditiously reviewing all relevant policies and procedures to do everything possible to keep something like this from happening again.
“For everybody in the community, we’re going to win your trust back because this is not who the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay is, and we’re going to continue to be that place where anybody can go to get the help and support that they need," Reynolds said.
HSCO detectives are asking anyone else who may be a victim or anyone with additional information related to this case, to contact them at 813-247-8200. To remain anonymous, you can call CrimeStoppers of Tampa Bay at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477).