Presumed Guilty

Shoddy police work. A hyperbolic press corps. Overzealous prosecutors. All part of the ruined life of accused pedophile Tom Tornatore.

Not to be outdone, the Palm Beach Post took up its position as the unofficial stenographer for prosecutor Scott Cupp. Post writer Scott Gold wrote this after the ruling that Tornatore had not violated his bond in Fort Lauderdale: "...[F]labbergasted prosecutors watched as a judge, facing a remarkable series of coincidences and nuances in Florida law, agreed to free Thomas Tornatore from jail -- again -- while he awaits trial."

The Palm Beach County trial has been postponed six times -- the state has had trouble producing witnesses, people on both sides have been reluctant to be deposed, a new judge took over in midstream, et cetera. The last delay occurred in March when the state asked for, and got, a stay after the trial had already begun.

At the trial Tornatore looked nervous and worn. In the hallway beforehand he huddled with his attorneys -- twin brothers Sid and Jack Fleischman -- planning strategy in hushed tones and looking out the tenth-floor windows toward Palm Beach. Waiting for his case to be called in the courtroom, he sat in the back with his parents, keeping up a running, whispered commentary on the failures of the justice system.

As always he reserved his most venomous comments for the media. Before his case came up, a line of the accused paraded before the judge; a man charged with beating his pregnant wife, an armed robber, six or seven thieves, and assorted drug dealers were summarily adjudicated. Two TV news cameramen cooled their heels in the back, recording none of it. "Not newsworthy," Tornatore hissed. "If Charles Manson came through here, they'd ignore him and focus on me."

Rule No. 3 in the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department's policy and procedure manual reads, "During early stages of the investigation, the detective(s)/investigator(s)/agents(s) will, based on individual case circumstances, thoroughly interview all victims, witnesses, neighbors, reporting parties, and possible suspects. It may become necessary to reinterview certain persons during the course of the investigation to clarify information or seek additional details."

Commonsense advice for cops. Unfortunately Palm Beach Gardens police didn't follow it. If they had Tornatore might never have been arrested in their town.

The questionable sleuthing, however, began before Palm Beach Gardens ever got its hands on the case. It began right from the start in Marion County when officer Jeff Gold got on the phone with Tornatore and did nothing to disguise his voice. In depositions Gold admits Tornatore did not believe he was talking to a 14-year-old boy. That's problematic because the statute Tornatore is charged under specifies that to be guilty of soliciting sex from a minor, you have to believe the person is, in fact, a minor.

There were actually two Jeremy Treks: Gold on the Internet and phone line, and Brian King, the person Tornatore met face-to-face at the Dairy Queen June 6, 1997. King is the 14-year-old son of Art King, a Marion County sheriff's deputy working with Gold on the sting. Brian King had no experience in police work and was given no training before his father wired him with a radio transmitter and set him out in the parking lot to meet Tornatore. That lack of training is in addition to the questionable tactic of using your son as a decoy to meet a man who, in this case, turned out to be armed.

The confusion and foul-ups continued. Marion County deputies attempted to record the conversation between Brian King and Tornatore, but their equipment failed. Gold took a taped statement from Tornatore in the police car but somehow lost the audiotape. After the arrest deputies took a taped statement from Brian King regarding his interaction with Tornatore and lost that tape too. They even misplaced Tornatore's wallet, which was later found in the room reserved for press conferences.

Nearly two years after the arrest, the Marion County case is still pending, awaiting the outcome of the trial in Palm Beach County.

Bad as it was, the police work in Marion County is textbook compared to the way Sergeant Artola of the Palm Beach Gardens police handled his investigation.

When he was working on the case, Artola was Palm Beach Gardens' lead detective on sex crimes, having worked that beat for almost ten years. He's since been promoted and now heads the department's professional standards division. He continues to lecture on the topic at schools and community centers around the city, to teach interviewing techniques at Home Safe, and to help train detectives from other police departments.

Artola had his suspicions about Tornatore ever since the 1995 complaint. When Tornatore was arrested in Marion County, Artola put two and two together. "Three years later this pops up," he says. "When it happened I was not shocked at all. I kind of suspected something was going to happen."

And there were little things, like Tornatore giving rides to juveniles in his city car, even the physical appearance of his wife. "You look at her, and she looks like an 18-year-old boy," says Artola. Throw in the notebook and a healthy dose of cop's intuition, and you've got what Artola believes is the m.o. of a pedophile.

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