did daddy do it?
home
a monster
lessons from the 80s
interviewing children
the miami method
discussion
photo of fuster
interview: frank fuster

Frank Fuster was convicted in 1985 of sexual battery, lewd assault and aggravated assault involving children who attended the in-home day care center run by his wife Ileana. He was sentenced to six life terms plus 165 years in prison. He talks about the evidence against him in the trial, why he refused the state's deal of 15 years in prison in exchange for a guilty plea, and his previous criminal record. This interview was conducted in July 1998.

Frank, in 1983 you marry a 16-year-old Honduran girl, Ileana. Who was she? What was she like?

Ileana was a very sweet and very intelligent young girl. I met her, and within months after that, we were in love and we got married.

Where were you living when you and Ileana first got married?

I was living by myself with my five-year-old son, Noel, at Country Walk. Country Walk is a housing development in Dade County.

Is it a neighborhood with families in it? Is it a lot of apartments? Is it a working-class neighborhood? Wealthy people? What kind of neighborhood was Country Walk?

It's a high-middle-class development. It has estate homes, it has single-family houses. And it has some townhouses. It's a private community, fancy, with one exit and one entrance.

One exit and one entrance?

Right. You have to go in and out through a gate.

A gated community. Ileana was 16. You were how old at the time?

Ileana was almost 17. She was 16 and 10 months. And I had no knowledge of that, until one day before we got married. I was 34. When I met Ileana, she told me she was 22. One day before going to buy the license to get married, her mother told me that Ileana was 17 and that she was going to go and sign. I was highly surprised. But by then, me and Ileana were very much in love. We went and her mother signed, and we had the wedding.

Were you happy together?

Very happy together.

At that point you already had three children, and one boy, Noel. Tell me about your boy, Noel.

... Noel was the one that introduced me to Ileana in the flea market. And he liked Ileana very much. When he first met Ileana, he used to refer to her as his girlfriend. And subsequently, Ileana and I became very good friends, and from there we fall in love. We made a commitment to each other. Noel felt very well about her.

Was Ileana was beautiful?

The pain that I experienced by Ileana's testimony cannot be put into words.

Ileana was very pretty, yes.

And how did she feel about having this son?

Ileana was very, very happy with Noel.

Frank, why did she begin to babysit? Why did she take children into the home?

She did that to help me economically. At that time, I had just started a new corporation. She noticed that I was having problems meeting my expenses. My mortgage payment was very high. And she did it to help me out, for which I was very grateful.

Was it [good money]?

Not very good money, but it was a help. The actions behind it counted more than the money that she actively brought in. She earned like $5,000 during a period of 10 months. ...

There came a moment when you realized that you were about to be in serious trouble regarding allegations of abusing these children that you and Ileana had into your home. When did you realize that? When did it become clear to you?

It became clear to me when ... I was confronted by Mrs. Andrea Landis and her husband. They're both police officers, and they are parents of a little girl that my wife used to babysit. ...

How did you become aware? What did they say?

They accused me. They openly told me that I had been molesting the children that were babysat by Ileana. And that they were aware of the fact that I had molested a 9-year-old girl. ...

And how did you respond to that, Frank?

I denied it immediately. I told them that I had taken the ... [other] case to trial; that I had denied all the charges from the beginning; that I had passed a lie detector test, and a psychological test; that I had done everything within my power to show that I have never done what the charge claimed that I had done. And I also denied molesting their children. I had no idea where they had come up with this, how this charge came up. I had no idea whatsoever.

And over the course of the next several weeks and months, you began to get other indications that something was wrong. Telephone calls?

Not over the next weeks. Two days after that conversation I was arrested -- turned myself in at the courthouse, that is. And I never saw the street again.

The incidents started escalating very fast. Not in weeks, but in matters of hours.

What happened?

Well, the next thing that happened to the best of my memory was that I went to see my attorney, Jeffrey Samek, to tell him what was going on. While I was at Samek's office, I called my house to check on my brother and a carpenter that was doing some work there. And my brother told me that the news media from Miami, that's Channel 4, Channel 7, Channel 10, and The Miami Herald, and several police officers were waiting for me outside the house. And at that time, the incidents started developing.

So there are cars and people and cameramen and others outside your house waiting for you?

Waiting for me to arrest me, according to my brother. They had come to the door and knocked several times. My brother told them that I was not there. And they were waiting for me to come home.

So what did you do?

I told Samek, and I allowed Samek to speak to my brother.

And Samek told you to do what?

And Samek told me at that point that he was going to give me a choice, either to turn myself in or see what I was going to do, meaning, leave the country or do whatever I wanted to do. He gave me the choice. I told him I wanted to turn myself in. We decided that I would turn myself in at the courthouse. At 10 o'clock in the morning, if I remember correctly, I turned myself in to Honorable Robert Newman.

At that moment, August 10, you turn yourself in. Have you been in custody ever since?

Ever since. I never saw the street again. ...

How long afterwards, Frank, was it when you heard that Ileana had been arrested?

Ileana was arrested around two weeks after that.

You and Ileana are both in jail. Were you worried about her?

Very. It was extremely painful.

What were you thinking? What did you imagine would be the case?

I was very, very sad for her. We used to talk on the telephone almost daily, and she used to come to visit me with correctional officers around every two weeks, more or less. Sometimes more frequently than that. Some officers would bring her to the men's prison, to the main country jail. We would be allowed to be there for one hour more or less together.

I was very sad for her. She was so naive and so pure and so young, and she had to go through this painful experience. That was really killing me.

Did you feel responsible for that?

I did not feel responsible in the way that I had any guilt. But I feel extremely sad we both had to go through this experience.

Did Ileana know at that point about these other cases in your life?

Ileana knew everything about my life.

There were a series of letters that you all exchanged. Do you remember those?

Yes. During the 10 months that we had communication, Ileana wrote to me approximately 366 letters.

Any of that at the suggestion of either of your attorneys?

No, no. Communicating our love and our support for each other. ... Ileana was 100 percent by my side.

So that's the picture I want to get. When you all are in jail, you're talking on the phone, you're occasionally seeing each other, she's writing you these letters, you were very much together.

One hundred percent.

Your lawyer was Jeff Samek. Her lawyer was Michael Von Zamft. They were together at one time, both representing both of you.

Right. I hired both of them to work with us. And at the beginning they both were our attorneys. ... They severed the cases. And then Von Zamft became Ileana's attorney and Samek became my attorney. ...

The trial comes. For five weeks, day after day, in front of a jury, you are sitting there, the accused, listening to these accounts of the most monstrous acts. And the prosecutor is saying you did these things to these children. How was that? How did you feel? How did you respond to that, being in court, hearing these things said about you?

It was extremely painful and extremely incredible. Incredible. I could not believe that I was going through the experience. The state had created a monster on paper, and he gave that monster my name. ...

So when was it that you become aware that Ileana, your wife, who has written you all of these love letters as you're in jail, that she might be turning against you? That she might, in fact, confess and implicate you in these crimes?

I became aware of that when it actually started happening, and when I started reading in the newspapers things that she were saying that were absolutely false.

Did Ileana ever mention to you that she had been visited by Janet Reno?

She told me that she had been visited by a very tall woman from the state attorney's office, but I had no idea that she was referring to Janet Reno.

And did she ever describe these visits to you? She said the woman was nice to her, was what?

She told me that there were things that she cannot tell me. The people from the state were very nice to her, yes.

You're sitting there in the trial, accused. The case has been made against you. And they bring in their most important witness toward the end of the trial, your wife Ileana. She takes the stand, accuses you of the most monstrous acts. She says that you molested these children individually and severally. That you raped her, abused her. What was your response to that? How did you react to that?

I got up and with all my power, I screamed at her in the courtroom, and I told her that she was a liar, and that God was going to punish her for that. The pain that I experienced by Ileana's testimony cannot be put into words. It was very, very painful to hear my wife testify against me that way.

It was equally painful the day that I find out that she had pleaded guilty to crimes that she never committed, to crimes that never existed. That was the day that I attack attorney Samek.

Attack attorney Samek? What do you mean, Frank?

The day that he came to tell me that Ileana had pleaded guilty, I conducted myself a little aggressive, because he was smiling and he was happy about it. It was obvious to me that he was happy that Ileana was pleaded guilty. So I took him by his clothes and put him against a wall.

This is Jeff.

This is Jeff Samek, yes.

Had you ever hit Ileana? Had you ever struck her?

I did once, yes.

Why?

She struck me and I struck back. It was instantaneously. We used to play rough. This day we weren't playing. She struck me, and I struck back.

Would that explain the bruises that people said that they had seen on her?

That only happened one time. There is only one black eye, and that was that day. I did not mean to do that. I didn't have a closed fist. Ileana was only 110 pounds. If I hit Ileana with a closed fist, I would have broken bones, I would have caused her damage. It was a spontaneous, open-hands situation. Ileana was kind of aggressive, yes.

The trial comes to a conclusion. You are found guilty of these acts that you denied having committed. What was your feeling then?

I was feeling very sad. ... When the verdict were read, I was highly surprised, but I conducted myself very passive. I got up when I was given an opportunity to speak, and I called on the judge and I told him that an innocent man had been found guilty. And that's on the record.

... It hurt you that your son, Noel, cooperated; that he disclosed, that he himself had been a victim of sexual abuse at your hands; that he swore under oath that he had not only witnessed these acts committed by you, but had, in fact, himself been victimized by you. What was your response to hearing that from your son?

It was very, very painful. ... In the case of my son, he was coerced, just like all the other children. My son and all the children constantly deny at the beginning that something had happened to them. They constantly deny it. And the Bragas, Joseph and Laurie Braga were the main interviewers, and the original interviewers, will not take no for an answer.

Finally, they told my son, you have this disease in your throat, and there is no way that you can get it unless your dad did this to you. If you want to help your dad, you have to admit that this happened. And after they repeated this in a long seven hours interview -- for a child, that's an enormous amount of hours -- my son began that if it had happened, it must have happened when he was asleep, that he didn't know about it.

In his child's mind -- and he was only six at the time -- he believed the doctors. I trained my son to respect doctors, and to believe doctors. And these were two persons introducing themselves to him as doctors. And they have a great authority over him. They insisted that something had happened, and eventually he became to believe it.

At the time, you didn't know all of that, though. At the time, all you knew was that your son, Noel, had joined this chorus of accusers. How did you respond to that? Who told you about that, that Noel is saying these things under oath?

I cannot remember. But to the best of my memory, I first read it in the newspaper.

And how did you respond?

I cry. It was very painful, very painful, to have your own son, your own wife accuse you of things you have never done. I am not a child molester. I am 100 percent innocent of the two convictions that I have here in Florida.

Frank, in this case, the Country Walk case, they had your son, they had your wife, they had 10 children -- not one or two children -- 10 children. As the prosecutor said, this can't be trickery, 10 children accusing you. What about the fact that there were ten children, 15 parents?

Using the same techniques that were used in my case, they could have had 100 children. They could have had children that never even visit me, or never even knew me, or were never even in my house. Because when you take a child and you subject that child to the techniques that were used by the Bragas, that child is going to end up in a matter of weeks believing whatever you want her or him to believe. These children were preschool children. My son was the oldest at six. Most of these children were only four or three. They were practically babies out of Pampers.

And it was very easy for the Bragas to take these children and make them believe, convince them that they were sexually abused and prepare them to be witnesses against me. ...

Frank, did the state ever offer you a deal?

Oh yes. They insisted. They offered me 15 years, regular 15 years. And if I had taken those, I would have been home 10 years ago.

Why didn't you take it?

Because I am innocent. I went to trial not only for me. I went to trial also for the children. I went to trial for Ileana. I went to trial for everyone involved. Someone had to say the truth. I decided to do it, and I did it.

You make it pretty clear, your declaration of innocence. Help me understand a couple of things. Why would you ever have been alone with those children in your home?

I don't remember being along with the children, ever, in my home.

Why would there ever have been children without their shirts, without their clothes on in your home?

I have no knowledge of that ever happen. Whenever I came home, that I saw Ileana there with the children, the children were fully clothed in the dayroom playing, doing what children do.

One more question about Ileana and her testimony against her. Aside from obviously you believe that her mind was hypnotized, as you put it, that she was influenced by the Behavior Changers. What would her motivation, aside from that, have been to testify against you, and to implicate herself in these crimes?

It's not a belief that Ileana was hypnotized. It's information that has been documented by independent persons such as Debbie Nathan and others. And independently, I believe, that she wanted to finish with the case. She was terrified of the news media. She wanted to do what her attorney wanted her to do. And she was offered 18 years just to plead guilty, or 10 years to plead guilty and testify against me. ...

Were you talking to her during this time at all? Were you still communicating with her during this period?

The last time I spoke to Ileana was during May 1984.

So you didn't speak to her? You didn't confront her, other than in court, after she turned for the prosecution?

That's correct.

You did hear though, of course, Frank, that several years later, after she had served time and had been deported back to Honduras, that a new lawyer -- Arthur Cohen, representing you -- went to see her. He elicited from her a sworn statement in which she recants her testimony against you, recants her confession. Tell me about that.

I was not altogether surprised. Arthur went to Honduras twice. The first time that he went down there, he told her that he was available. He left his address and his phone number, and make himself available to her. And he could return to the United States.

Subsequently, Ileana took the initiative to contact Arthur, to the best of my understanding. Arthur returned to Honduras, and she gave him a 60-page document confessing this time that I was innocent, that she was innocent -- that she was coerced to do and say everything that she had said and done.

Why did she do that, Frank?

It was the right thing to do. But you will have to ask her that question, Pete.

How did you explain it to yourself, that this woman who had taken the stand, who had sworn under oath that you had done these things to her, to these children, that she had been participant in these monstrous acts -- why would she now change her story?

Inside her mind, she knows that we are innocent. Inside her mind, she knows that I have never done any of these things. She knows that I do not belong in prison. And she knows what was done to her.

There is a church which has been sending Ileana $300 a month, which is a lot of money in her country, ever since she got deported to her country. The man that was in charge of that church, he's retired now, Pastor Watson. He went to Honduras and talked to her, and got her to sign a document whereby she retracted from her 60-page deposition that she gave my attorney.

Why would he do that?

I wish I knew that. I also wish I knew where the money comes from, because this church is not known to be sending anybody $300 a month for so many years. And I don't know what power this man has over Ileana. Tommy Watson is his name. I don't know what power he has over Ileana that he went down there and got her to move. She disappeared. We don't know where she's at now.

And she got very scared. I have no idea what he told her. But I know that Ileana is afraid. Because she's afraid, she's scared to come back to United States. The prosecution of United States show her what they can do to an innocent person, the same way that they have shown me. So she's scared. She's scared to come back here and go back to prison on false charges.

Before Tommy Watson got involved, your attorney had in his hand a 40-some-page recantation by Ileana.

Sixty.

Sixty-page [recantation]. That must have made you feel like there was hope in your case.

Yes, that gave me hope in my case. But it didn't last very long. ...

Part of the reason, as you know, Mr. Fuster, that there are many people who are not on your side is because of your past. You have killed a man. You have been charged before the cases at Country Walk. You were charged with molesting a little girl. You were seen by some people as having been a monster before this case at Country Walk ever came up. Why should they think otherwise? You are, in fact, in some ways, the perfect bad guy.

I was made into a bad guy on papers. It is true that I killed a man in the state of New York. That happened in 1969. And it was not during the commission of a crime. I was trying to make a citizen arrest when this person disarmed me, and in the process, the gun went off. I assume full responsibility for that action. I pled guilty in court. And I was sentenced. I paid for my participation in the unfortunate death of that man. ...

[Editor's Note: Frank Fuster pled guilty to manslaughter for the 1969 death of Jack Isenbek.]

What was the outcome of the trial in the case of the first little girl that you were accused of molesting?

I was found guilty by a jury of six persons.

And what was your sentence?

My sentence was two years probation. I was facing 15 years in prison. The sentence in itself speaks for itself. The judge that sentenced me gave me two years probation because the charge was so weak. ...

Nevertheless, Frank, you recognize at least the implications of your past to the parents of children entrusted in the care of your wife and yourself in your home. You stood convicted of child molestation. You're on probation. And these parents hear that a child molester is taking care of their kids, and maybe they're being molested. You can understand how they would be concerned to say the least.

Yes, I do. And I have had many years to think how things happen, and why they happen. I will have had the same concerns if I had had my son being babysat in the house of a man that was on probation for child molestation. I am guilty of using a very poor judgement in allowing Ileana to babysit. ...

One of the points that was made by the state, and by the state's experts at the time, and by child advocates to this moment is that children don't lie, Frank.

That is the greatest mistake that this society has committed. And that statement is responsible for the national hysteria that this country has seen and is experimenting. Children do not lie out of themself. But it is very easy for an adult to inculcate a lie into a child, make that child believe that lie, and make a perfect witness for the state. ...

home : introduction : a monster? : lessons from the 80s : interviewing children
miami method : discussion : interviews : video : producer chat : tapes & transcripts
press : credits : privacy : FRONTLINE : wgbh : pbsi

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Solitary NationApril 22nd

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS