Teen counselor charged with sex abuse

March 23, 2011 2:46:03 PM PDT
Police charged a camp counselor with repeatedly sexually assaulting an 8-year-old autistic boy under his care.

Prosecutors say he took photos of the heinous acts.

"I think all of us as parents are going to be suspect from now on," said Donna Long, the mother of an autistic child.

It may be impossible for these mothers of autistic children to overcome the sense of betrayal.

They watched Wednesday as prosecutors announced a 104-count indictment against 19-year-old Francesco Zaffuto of Staten Island.

Investigators say in late August 2008, the teenager directed an 8-year-old boy, autistic and non-verbal, to perform a sex act on him on three separate occasions.

The alleged abuse happened in a bathroom during a summer program for autistic children at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin at Mount Loretto in Pleasant Plains where Zaffuto worked as a one-on-one camp counselor.

"My son attended the camp, he was in the group for two weeks with this person who was just charged, and I could cry right now on many levels," said Barbara D'Amora, the mother of an autistic child.

"This is a boy within our own community, from one of our finest schools, and it's shocking to me, just shocking," said Diane Peruggia, the mother of an autistic child.

Prosecutors say the teenager documented his crimes by taking graphic photos of the abuse and saving the pictures on his home computer.

Police searched the Zaffuto's Eylandt Street home after receiving a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who noticed the teen allegedly uploading child pornography.

"We have no evidence right now that there were other victims, and we are certain that the people who run Mount Loretto and the people at the camp had no idea about this victimization," said Dan Donovan, the Staten Island District Attorney.

Zaffuto was arraigned Wednesday and bail was set at $750,000.

His attorney, Leo Duval, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.