did daddy do it?
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interview: noel goodman

He is Frank Fuster's son. Following his father's arrest in 1984, prosecutors announced that 6-year-old Noel had tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat. The testing method, however, was later called into question. After Joe and Laurie Braga -- child experts hired by the Dade County state attorney's office -- questioned the 6-year-old Noel in a videotaped session, he reluctantly admitted his father might have molested him while he was sleeping. Now 24, Noel talks about the Bragas' interviewing tactics and how they "were playing games with a 6-year-old's head."

When your mom and dad got divorced, you chose to go with your dad, correct? What exactly happened there?

At the time, I really didn't have much of a choice. Me and my dad were very close, and my mom knew that. My dad, he had a lot of plans on how he wanted to raise me, what kind of a man he wanted me to become. ...

How old were you at that time?

I believe I was four or five, about that age. So I was still very young. I didn't quite understand the whole divorce.

What's your memory of your father as a person when you were little like that? What did you think of him?

Like Superman. Like any kid, when he's young, he looks at his dad, men can do it all. There's no question he can't answer. There's no problem he can't overcome. And this was the memory I retained of him until this day.

For him and me, I've always seen him as near perfect. Of course, no one's perfect. But he's always at least tried his best. So what more can you ask for?

Tell me how Ileana got on the scene.

I met Ileana first. We were at, I think, it was a flea market, or it was like a big market. I met her. And she was beautiful. She was a very beautiful woman. I fell in love right away. And I said, "Dad, I met a beautiful woman, she's my girlfriend." And he was laughing with me. I introduced him. And he met the family. My dad is a very charismatic fellow, the way he holds himself. And they all [hit] it off, and ended up getting married.

When you say charismatic, in what sense?

Dad is very intelligent. And he doesn't come off that way. He doesn't have this like ego problem. He comes off [as] understanding. He's willing to listen, he's willing to talk. He's never had a problem talking with anybody. He's never had a problem conveying his feelings about things. He's always very honest. ...

How was their relationship, that you remember?

I was very trusting. ... I thought these people were here to help me.

Very affectionate. We're very close; we're a very close family. I'm an affectionate person, so is my dad. We had no problem showing our love or feelings. If they ever had any problems, at least I never saw it. I'm sure they had their own problems; every marriage does. But [they were] pretty affectionate.

She, at some moment, decides to create a -- would you call it a day care center? What would you call what she did? Bringing babysitting into the house.

Yes, some of the kids around the neighborhood. ...

A lot of kids?

I believe seven or eight, nothing too extensive. But a good amount of kids from the neighborhood, at least that I can remember.

What was the idea? It was basically her job?

So she didn't have to leave the house to go to work. Dad is a Cuban man. He wants to take care of his wife. He wants to provide the home and provide his role, so to speak. And that way she could stay home. She could cook, she could take care of me. She wanted to have her own job, do something where she could bring a little money in for herself. And that seemed like a great idea.

How did you feel about her?

Ileana? I had a crush on Ileana probably more than anything. She was smart. I mean, when she was beautiful, she was very like my dad in a lot of ways. And I believe if all this controversy had not happened, things might have turned out differently between her and him, but also definitely between me and my father. They were very close-knit. They had a lot of the same soul. ...

When did you know that there was trouble?

I was pretty much kept in the dark, until one day, Dad wasn't there, and I was staying with my grandmother. I still didn't really know anything, until one day, I talked to him on the phone. And he gave me kind of a basic understanding that he's in jail, that he's innocent. ...

What did you think happened? What did you think at the time?

Everything was fairly quick, between the moment that Dad was in jail and the moment that I started going to all these counselings and questionings and interrogation-type things. That was pretty much the basis on what I formed my first opinion on what was happening. ...

Tell me about that very first [counseling session], through the eyes of the 6- or 7-year-old.

For me, being six, that was not too big of a deal. The biggest deal when I walked into there is that this room is covered in toys -- every toy you can think of. You've got battleships, dolls. You're in Willy Wonka land. And so, you love playing. I would sit down. And I was already hyperactive. I'm a kid who wants to touch and play with everything. "Sit down, and we're going to tell you what's going on, and we're going to tell you how you can help us and your father," which I was told. "And then you can play all you want." ...

How did you feel about the Bragas? Describe them to me as you remember them.

noel with the bragas

The Bragas, they were interesting, because they both almost look alike. I don't know if anybody is familiar with the way the Bragas look, but they all have these long ponytails, white hair and the suits and stuff. So I was kind of more curious about anything. I wasn't defensive or weary. I kind of opened up. I was a lovable kid, I liked everybody. I was really... I was happy.

Had you ever met anybody like them before?

Actually, yes and no. I've been through a lot of therapists in my life, and all the therapists have that same kind of, I guess, underlying quality. A quiet, calm demeanor; you know, the intelligence look in their eyes. And so with that, that's been throughout my life.

But with them, they were cold, I guess might be the best way to put it. But seemingly smiling. When I think about them now, I don't necessarily picture the face, and I don't picture the words. But I picture the feelings that I feel inside of me, which aren't that good. And I don't get that feeling from anybody else.

I mean, it's a mix between, trying to forgive the tinges of like hatred and anger, and the tinges of sorrow, because of all this they're going through -- because they knew what they were doing.

What was your impression of why you were there? What did they say to you, or your mother say to you, or anybody say to you?

My mother said that they were going to ask me some questions. She hated all this, and she still didn't know what was going to go on. The counselors are very, "Your father is very sick. He's sick in the head. We're going to help him. We're here to help him. We're here to help you. And we're going to tell you about some things that happened. In basic terms, you're going to say, 'Yes.'"

And that's what's happened. "If you want to help your father, then this is what you got to say."

Were you nervous, suspicious, weary at some of the things they would say? "Your father is sick."

Not really. I was very trusting. ... I thought these people were here to help me. These people were here to help my father. And because of them, I'm going to see my father soon. "Yes, that sounds perfect, let's do it."

Walk me through it. What do they say to you? What kinds of things did they tell you? What kinds of things did they ask you?

They started familiarizing me with things about my father. Basic, I guess, that he had been sick, and that he had done some things to children. We had a lot of visual tools, like the little dolls, anatomically correct dolls. So this is two dolls and this is the males and this is the females. So I'm just taking this in. The whole process kind of blurs with me now.

But I remember a lot of times, "No, no, that didn't happen." "Oh, yes, it did. You're not understanding." And then before you know it, "OK. Yes, he did that, but he was sick," and they would offer that as like an excuse. "But he was sick, Noel, you know he was sick. And he won't be sick anymore, once we're done helping him."

And so, "Yes, OK, he did it, but he was sick. And now you can play." And it's like, "OK, let's play." And so it was like positive reinforcement, and then [negative] reinforcement. I'm not too familiar with the psychology; I got to take it this year. But I'm sure I have a lot better understanding of what kind of techniques were used. ...

In my reading of your sessions with the Bragas, you either don't understand what they're talking about, or don't believe that what they're asking you to agree to ever actually happened. Which was it?

You notice in the depositions I sound like totally confused. I'm saying this, I'm saying that. It's like some parts are contradictory. "Oh, no, it didn't," "Oh, yes, it did."

You see that boy's confused. He doesn't know if he's up or he's down. It wasn't that I was an unintelligent kid, or I wasn't just messing up. But I had been told this, I'd been told that. I couldn't say my own memories, because that was considered wrong. And this was wanted so much that anything I didn't know was presumed: "Oh, he doesn't want to know it. He's lying because he loves his father." There was no possibility that I was just telling the truth, and this was a normal day-in and day-out life. ...

I know it's hard to remember. But when a little kid hears the word gonorrhea, what does it mean to a little kid?

Absolutely nothing. Here's another thing. I don't even know if you know this about the gonorrhea. The hospital that took this test, and says, "Oh, Noel has gonorrhea," because they've seen some bacteria in my throat. It could be a cold, flu, could be so many number of things. But "He's got gonorrhea."

And so then they went in, they gave me a whole bunch of shots. I mean, one day, bam, bam, bam. I remember that, because it was painful. And a kid hates needles. Doesn't know what gonorrhea is, but hates needles. And I remember the needles.

And then after that, sent me on my way.

You're cured.

And we have no papers. We don't have the culture. We don't have anything. Everything's gone. Nobody knows where it's at, or it's just been destroyed. And hospitals don't do that; they keep all these great records and stuff. But, before you know it, it was "He had gonorrhea, he got treated, he's cured, here you go. And Frank Fuster is guilty." ...

Did anybody ever tell you that you supposedly got it from your father sticking his penis in your mouth?

Oh yes, that was what I told what happened -- and sooner or later, made to believe that this is what happened. Any way they could get it to me. Whether I said no seven times, "Well, you didn't know about it, you were asleep. You were hypnotized," anything. Because they went off on the deep end with my dad. He's a devil worshipper, he's a satanist. Anybody could have came up with the charge against him, and found some way to prove him guilty of it. So there was no limit to the extent that they could have gone on with the stories. ...

You're telling me they kind of convinced you.

They convinced everybody. With me, they couldn't do the type of measures they did with Ileana, my stepmother at the time. But if you ever read about the things they did with her, I mean, it was God-awful. This is America. These people were torturing her. And so this is what she went through. With me, it was more psychological. It was more mind games. They were playing games with a 6-year-old's head. And they were good at it. ...

How did you know what they wanted you to say?

... It was very subtle. "Well, you had gonorrhea, somebody had to do it. Your father, he's the one who tried to do it." This and that. And slowly but surely, they form my conclusion. They helped form that. ...

What did you finally tell them so that they would basically leave you alone and be happy with you?

... That my father had, I guess, put his penis in my mouth because he was sick and I was sleeping, so I must have not known about it. That Ileana had kissed the bodies, which supposedly they said "the bodies" means the private parts of the genitalia of the boys. And that they had danced. There was some dancing going on. I think I have vague details about mostly everything, but they would try to narrow on and make their own assumptions or lead me to that. ...

Did part of you think maybe it is true?

Not really. I would have remembered something. And if my father was guilty of this, yes, I would love him because he is my father. But I wouldn't lie for him. I would want him to pay for what he's done, not only to me, but from the children, from the parents. For a long time, I probably would have been angry with my father. I might have even been bitter. I would have gone through the whole process. And then OK, it's my father, I've got to forgive him, even though he's done these horrible, horrible things. And that's probably what my life would have been like.

But this is so much different, because there is no recollection. And I remember a lot of things and feelings. None. Life was so normal. ... Even though I was five and I was six, I would have known if kids were dancing around naked, there was devil worshipping, and people were getting in these sex orgies, all the things they said. I would have. Anybody would.

So why did you admit that something happened?

The way I looked at it, it had to have happened. I had to have been wrong. There was something wrong with me, something wrong with my father. These people, that's just the way it had to be. And I tell you, I've dealt with this on so many different levels and so many different times, thinking how did it go down. And I don't know.

These people, I don't know what they were, but they did a number on me, they really did. And so now it's just trying to figure out what we're going to do now.

What did you think happened to Ileana? Did you know what had happened to her?

Never heard about it again. Just disappeared off the face of the earth. ...

How does it feel, Noel, to know that you were one of the most important things -- maybe the most important thing, because you were a kid and because of the testimony that kids don't lie -- how does it feel to know that you, more than maybe anything else and anybody else, are responsible for sending your father to prison for life?

It almost destroyed me. For a long time, I went through every type of negative emotion. I blamed myself. I went through that whole thing. ...

Who do you blame for what happened to your father and to you?

Fear. I believe that's what happened. These parents, I don't blame them. They hate me ... right now. And they're going to be spitting at the TV screen. But they're victims, too. They've grown up their whole lives thinking their kids have been through this. These kids have thought their whole lives that they've gone through this. God only knows what they're going through in their own lives. And just the mere thought of this might have happening to them might have sent them on a whole different bad path... We're all victims of this. ...

But who victimized you?

Victimized me personally? The people probably I was interviewed with, [who] most directly wanted their answers. The Bragas, all the way up to even Janet Reno, who was at the time the Dade County state attorney. This is why it's so difficult to put this out, because you've got powerful people in government. Everybody who dealt with the case, in their own way, was responsible.

But how in your mind, did Janet Reno do anything to you?

Just she was the top of the line. She's the one that condoned everything. It's like if I'm a peasant and a soldier comes and kills me, it's not really the king's fault, because the king didn't kill me, but he's the one on top of the chain. And so she's the one that had the Bragas put there and this and that. ... They had no idea what they were doing, but they knew how to speak, and they knew how to manipulate with words. And, I guess, this was the most important thing.

All these things were known about, and everybody's profited from it. Janet Reno profited from it; I mean, look where she is now. This was a very popular case. It was a very powerful case. A lot of money, a lot of publicity. And she came out of it with a higher name for herself. So she's profited from my father's misfortune, and so has many other people, all based on a lie. ...

Now, Noel, you love your father; love him very much.

Yes, sir.

Now, you wish he was out of prison.

Yes.

Would you lie for him now?

No. I tell you, if my dad was guilty, I would tell him, "I love you, Dad, but you've got to pay for this, because you hurt a lot of people." I've done a lot of bad things in my life. One lesson that God told me is that you have got to pay for that. You will answer for the things you do. No matter what it is, in some way, in some form or another, these things will come back to you. You have to pay for these things in some way or another.

And my dad would need help. The things that they charged him with -- I'd tell him, "Dad, you need help. Look at the things. I remember this. I was there."

But because I know he's innocent, and I know the things, I will fight for him, because he deserves at least that from me. I don't do as good as I should do all the time for myself and things. He doesn't deserve this; nobody deserves this. So if he was guilty, I would be here to say, "My dad is guilty." I would write to the families, hope they forgive him. I would support that. ...

Any time anybody changes their story, people, television viewers, they say, "Which Noel do I believe? Do I believe the 7-year-old kid who was closer to the event at the time and maybe he actually did witness them and have them happen to them? Or do I believe the 20-year-old young man who loves his father and would just as soon see him get out of prison?" Which Noel do we believe?

The 7-year-old Noel went in saying his father was innocent, that he loved his father very much. The 7-year-old kid has recorded evidence of the type of manipulation used. The 20-year-old Noel never says, "Maybe my father did it, but now I don't think he is [guilty]." The 20-year-old Noel knows that his father was innocent from the beginning, like you say, when he was seven, and he's never had this time of changing or conveying of feelings. It was as a simple truth, and the truth is that my dad is innocent.

And the problems with me dealing with it don't matter. It just comes down to that one simple truth, that I said when I was seven and I'll say now, and if I have to, I'll say it when I'm 50: My father's innocent of what he's been charged with.

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