Sarasota Police Department seeking information from potential victims
A 52-year-old Sarasota man who worked as a certified nurse’s assistant has been charged with one count of Lewd and Lascivious Molestation involving an elderly or disabled person, the Sarasota Police Department has reported.
The victim was a patient in an assisted living facility, a news release says.
Marco Tulio Avila Romero, of 2755 55th St. in Sarasota, was arrested on July 18, his Probable Cause Affidavit says.
Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court records show that he is scheduled to be arraigned on Sept. 15. His bond was set at $1,500, another court record says. Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Corrections records note that he was released on cash bond the same day he was arrested.
Sarasota Police Department detectives say in a news release that they believe that more patients of assisted living facilities in the area may have been victims of Romero. “We are asking the public for their assistance in gathering all information pertaining to Romero,” the release points out.
Anyone who may have information about such cases is asked to call Detective Cox at 941-263-6075, leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS, or going online at www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com.
The news release explains that the Police Department began investigating Romero on June 30. “Romero targeted numerous victims who were unable to disclose that they were being sexually molested,” the release alleges.
The Probable Cause Affidavit explains that, on June 30, officers were called to a facility located on Fruitville Road, where a resident had reported that a staff member had been inappropriately touching the patient’s genitals.
When the officers met with the patient’s mother at the facility, the affidavit continues, she said that her son had been placed in the facility because he had suffered a traumatic brain injury and could not speak; he uses “an electronic eye scanner that reads words for him.”
On June 30, the mother continued, the family went out on a boat. After they returned to the facility, the affidavit says, the son did not want to go back into his room. When asked if he wanted to tell her something, the mother reported, he indicated that he did. Then the son used the scanner to convey to his mother that an employee of the facility named Marco had been touching his genitals, the affidavit says.
When the officers interviewed the son, the affidavit adds, the son was able to use the scanner to tell them that the inappropriate touching had been going on for approximately five weeks.
When the officers asked whether the employee had put his hands inside the son’s pants, the son indicated that the employee had not done that.
Staff members then advised the officers that Romero was sent home after they learned of the incident. When he was questioned, they told the officers, Romero tried to defend himself, saying that he was trying to reposition the son away from the window and that he did not intentionally touch the son’s genitals.
Later, during questioning of Romero’s supervisor, Oxana Betancourt, the affidavit continues, officers learned from her that when she talked with Romero about the accusations against him, “on the night when they suspended him,” Romero told her, “ ‘I can’t lose my job over this …’ ”
Betancourt told the officers that “she found it odd that he never denied [the incident with the son],” the affidavit continues.
She also said that she had cared for the patient who reported the incident, noting that he is “ ‘completely in his mind [and] knows what is happening and how to tell you what he needs or wants,’ ” the affidavit points out.
An officer also spoke with the director of the facility, Erik Coleman, the affidavit notes. Coleman reported that Romero had been fired, adding that Romero “gave conflicting stories” provided Coleman with an email Romero had written. In the email, the affidavit says, Romero wrote that he had placed a blood pressure box in the patient’s lap and when he picked it back up, he touched the patient’s genitals “because he didn’t realize the box was on [them]. Marco stated [that the patient] did jump and got upset,” the affidavit says.
Romero then told Coleman that he apologized to the patient and left the room to attend to his next patient, the affidavit adds.
Other allegations from other facilities
During the investigation, the affidavit continues, a Sarasota Police officer “found numerous reports since 2016 involving complaints about Marco inappropriately touching patients at several different assisted living facilities.”
In one incident, the affidavit notes, a 70-year-old male patient accused Romero of licking that patient’s genitals. That situation allegedly occurred at Sarasota Point Rehabilitation Center, on Courtland Street in Sarasota, the affidavit points out. Since the patient was not physically capable of talking with officers, no enforcement action took place, the affidavit explains. The patient in that case ended up dying in 2017, the affidavit adds.
In a 2019 case, the affidavit continues, a staff member at a facility in Venice reported that Romero had massaged an 88-year-old male patient with lotion while that patient was “completely naked”; the massage included the area around the genitals. That incident allegedly took place at Manorcare Health Services.
Other incidents involving Romero were reported in 2021, the affidavit says. They were alleged to have occurred at Magnolia Health and Rehabilitation Center, which is located on Tuttle Avenue in Sarasota, and Tarpon Point Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which stands on Park Club Drive in Sarasota.
Then, the affidavit notes, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department began investigating an incident that was reported in May, in which Romero “was accused of lingering too long on three separate occasions while rubbing ointment on the genitals of an 80-year-old male resident” at Amira Choice Living Center, which is located on University Parkway in Sarasota. That case remains under investigation, the affidavit says.