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Parents sue defunct preschool, claim child porn pictures could have been prevented

Naples Daily News


By Aisling Swift
8:57 a.m., Monday, November 9, 2009

The parents of two children whose genitals were photographed by a man, according to authorities, at the now-defunct Ann Phillip Preschool in Naples Park have sued the owner, claiming her school lacked supervision and she failed to immediately report the suspected abuse by her stepson.

The parents filed separate lawsuits against Katherine Dinatale and the school in Collier Circuit Court, where cases seek more than $15,000 in damages. One also seeks punitive damages, which are meant to punish, deter others and send a message.

Attorney Ted Zelman, who represents the parents of a 5-year-old child, said they'd hoped the case would have been resolved long ago without having to sue. They filed their lawsuit, which seeks punitive damages, on Tuesday.

"They and I are convinced that the school acted with complete disregard for their child and them," said Zelman of Zelman & Hanlon in Naples. "They want the school and Ms. Dinatale held accountable for their actions and that a message be sent to all child-care providers that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated."

Dinatale no longer runs the school at 860 102nd Ave. North, which has changed its name to Noah's Ark Academy Naples and has been under new management since July 13. The new management took a message to give to Dinatale but she did not return a call seeking comment.

Craig Blume of Naples, the attorney representing her insurance provider, also didn't return a call and e-mail seeking comment.

Richard Weldon of Weldon & Rothman of Naples filed a separate lawsuit on Oct. 26 for a North Naples couple, the parents of a 4-year-old child. He did not return a call seeking comment.

The small preschool was closed for two weeks this spring while the Collier County Sheriff's Office and the state Department of Children and Families investigated allegations of sexual abuse committed by Anthony Jude Dinatale Jr., now 30.

Investigators say he deleted the photos in his cell phone, which he provided to them after thinking they were gone. But authorities said they were able to retrieve the photos and identify both girls. The photos are the strongest evidence in both the criminal and civil cases, which often are difficult in he-said, she-said allegations involving such young victims.

Anthony Dinatale remains in county jail on $3.4 million bond, the highest bond many local attorneys can recall in Collier County.

He's charged with two counts of promoting a sexual performance by a child and lewd and lascivious molestation involving two children. He also faces three counts of capital sexual battery and lewd or lascivious molestation charges in an unrelated rape case involving a 9-year-old girl who came forward after the initial cases were publicized.

He faces life in prison for the capital offense and 15 years for the other charges, second-degree felonies.

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