Florida Boss Arrested for Child Pornography

Anthony J. Gentile, Broward Teachers Union president, was arrested on child pornography charges July 26 after reportedly arriving for a rendezvous with a 14-year-old girl. Gentile was charged in Broward Cir. Court with one count of sexual performance by a child, one count of computer pornography, and four counts of transmitting harmful material to a minor — third-degree felonies punishable by a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $35,000 fine. Authorities are determining whether to file federal charges. Gentile has been president of BTU since 1979.

The “girl” was Detective Richard Love with Law Enforcement Against Child Harm task force. Gentile was arrested at 10 a.m. outside a Ft. Lauderdale store where investigators say he planned to meet the girl. He left the county jail at 3:30 p.m. on $16,000 bail.

The case originated in May when AOL screen name “TJGENT234” contacted an FBI child pornography sting called Innocent Images in Birmingham, Ala., LEACH Lt. Paul O’Connell said. The FBI notified LEACH, which assigned Love to contact the computer user, posing as the 14-year-old girl. Gentile is accused of discussing sex acts in ten e-mail conversations with the person he thought was a girl in June and July. On four occasions, he transmitted pornographic images of adults having sex and one of a girl under 18 having sex with a man, court records allege. Another detective posing as the girl, Joyce Fleming, agreed to talk with him on the phone. On July 26, the girl agreed to meet Gentile in a parking lot and was arrested. Authorities seized his desktop and laptop computers at BTU headquarters July 26 because they are suspected of having been used to send the photographs, O’Connell said.

BTU and Florida union bosses, as well as Broward School Board members, shockingly supported Gentile after the arrest, lauding him as “a community leader” who fought for education. He “has strived to make Broward County and surrounding communities a better place to live,” John Ristow, BTU communications and publications manager. Board member Judie Budnick called Gentile an outstanding citizen. “He’s put in hours of tireless effort to improve our system.” BTU bosses said they’ll ensure that no operations are affected: including current negotiations for all 13,000 teachers for the 2001-2002 school year, which resume on July 30.

Gentile has lobbied in Washington and Tallahassee for increased education funding. He has been a staunch advocate for the fair treatment of educators accused of wrongdoing, most notably when the Board sought to fire two teachers arrested for lewd acts in an adult club in 1999. Gentile is also a major force in local education policy-making. He has served on numerous advisory committees on construction and education for minorities and helped recommend companies for the district’s insurance contracts.

As the leader of one of the county’s largest and most politically active unions, Gentile is influential in county politics and served on the Democratic Executive Committee. He also has served on the boards of the NAACP, Nat’l Conference of Christians & Jews, Nat’l Org. for Women and the United Way. He is married and has two adult children and one child in high school. [Sun-Sent. (Ft. Lauderdale) 7/27/01]