In 1984, Frank Fuster was living the American dream with a nice house in the
Miami suburbs and a new wife who was helping him raise his 5-year-old son.
Then, Fuster's world fell apart. He and his wife found themselves charged with
sexually abusing more than 20 children who attended their unlicensed home
day care center.
Fuster -- who it was soon learned had prior convictions for manslaughter and
child molestation -- seemed to be the classic perpetrator. Branded a "monster"
by parents and the local media, he was convicted and sentenced to 165 years in
prison. His case would establish a successful method for prosecuting similar
day care abuse cases nationwide, while also boosting the political fortunes of
a state attorney named Janet Reno, whose office would go on to prosecute
additional cases of multiple sexual abuse at day care centers in the Miami
But was Frank Fuster really guilty of the sexual abuse charges for which he
was convicted? Or was he the victim of a tainted investigation that led to
damning testimony from the state's star witnesses: some 20 children and
Fuster's own wife? Eighteen years later, this FRONTLINE investigation reveals
new evidence that calls into question the seemingly ironclad case against Frank
Fuster. This report also includes new allegations by Fuster's former
wife that Janet Reno personally participated in a campaign to break her down
psychologically in order to force her to testify falsely against her
"Did Daddy Do It?" recalls the media frenzy and public hysteria surrounding
several high-profile day care abuse cases unfolding across the nation at
that time. Nowhere was that public panic more pronounced than in Miami, where
Janet Reno and other prosecutors had begun vigilantly pursuing day care sexual
FRONTLINE recounts how Reno's office successfully built its case against the
Fusters based on the testimony of the children, one specific medical test
suggesting abuse, and a confession from Fuster's teenage wife, Ileana. "Child
experts" Joe and Laurie Braga conducted videotaped interviews with the children
in which they talked about horrific sexual abuse involving masks, snakes,
drills, and other objects. Prosecutors announced that Noel, Fuster's son, had
tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat. And the only adult witness,
Ileana, pleaded guilty and testified against her husband in exchange for a
Following Fuster's conviction, Reno's office began to use the so-called "Miami
Method" to go after other suspected child abusers. David Markus, a prosecutor
in Reno's office, defends the techniques used to interview the children,
saying Reno's unit was one of the first to limit the number of child interviews
in order to minimize the trauma of asking a child to discuss such painful
topics. But Dr. Stephen Ceci, a nationally recognized expert on children's
memory and interviewing techniques, disagrees. In particular, Ceci believes
the Braga sessions were rife with leading questions that prompted children to
say what they thought the interviewer wanted to hear.
Perhaps most egregious, Fuster appeal attorney Robert Rosenthal says, was the
interview conducted in the Fuster case with Fuster's young son, Noel. "Did
Daddy Do It?" offers scenes from this taped interview in which the
Bragas -- apparently stymied by Noel's insistence that no one abused him -- ask the
child if it's possible that he was abused but simply doesn't remember it
because he was hypnotized or asleep at the time.
"These people did a number on me," Noel, now 24, tells FRONTLINE.
"They were playing games with a 6-year-old's head. They were good at it -- I
was confused. But now I know the truth."
That truth, Noel now says, is that he was never abused by his father.
What's more, defense attorney Rosenthal questions the accuracy of the state's
gonorrhea test, saying that particular kind of test had been shown to be
inaccurate, and that the state had quickly treated Noel so that no further
testing was possible.
Now Ileana Flores, Fuster's former wife, has come forward to tell
FRONTLINE that her trial testimony against her husband was the result of a
concerted effort by the state attorney's office to break her down
psychologically and force her to testify against her husband. However, this
FRONTLINE report also examines how Ileana has changed her story several times
over the years.
"What I testified at trial was not the truth," says Ileana Flores, adding that
Fuster "didn't do any of those things."
Flores recounts a harrowing tale of being kept naked in her Dade County
jail cell, held forcibly under cold showers, and being subjected to repeated
psychological badgering aimed at convincing her that she had repressed memories
of Fuster's abuse. She even recalls late-night visits from Janet Reno.
"I would tell [Reno] 'I am innocent,' and she would say, 'I'm sorry, but you
are not and you're gonna have to help us,'" Flores tells FRONTLINE.
Janet Reno -- now a candidate for governor of Florida -- declines to address
Flores' charges, saying only that Flores has changed her story before. When
asked to recall specific details about the case, Reno replies, "I haven't
looked at the file in fifteen years. I would need you to bring me all the
files and I don't foresee having the time to go through the files."
When FRONTLINE offered to provide Reno with the files, she declined to discuss
the case further.
Meanwhile, Frank Fuster is serving his 165-year sentence. He says he turned
down a deal from the state in which he was offered a sentence of fifteen years
if he would plead guilty. "If I had taken [it]," Fuster tells FRONTLINE, "I
would have been home ten years ago." He refused the deal, he says, "Because I
home : introduction : a monster? : lessons from the 80s : interviewing children
miami method : discussion : interviews : video : producer chat : tapes & transcripts
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