did daddy do it?
a monster
lessons from the 80s
interviewing children
the miami method
photos of fuster, ileana and noel
introduction: april 25, 2002

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 area.

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 husband.

"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 abuse cases.

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 10-year sentence.

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 am innocent."

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