Family may sue preschool where authorities say girl, 5, was molested

Naples Daily News


By RYAN MILLS (Contact)
7:15 p.m., Wednesday, April 1, 2009

NAPLES - The family of a 5-year-old girl who authorities say was molested at a Naples Park preschool in mid-March feel betrayed by the school and its employees who failed to prevent the abuse and didn't report it to authorities, the family's attorney said Wednesday.

"Our clients feel betrayed two times by the Ann Phillips Preschool," said Naples attorney Ted Zelman, who is representing the 5-year-old's family. "The first time is that this incident was allowed to happen apparently 12 days after another little girl was victimized. The second betrayal is that they did not act on their daughter's information.

"The affair ended only because a smart and brave little girl did the right thing."

Authorities say that on March 18, the 5-year-old girl, whose name has not been released, told two teachers at the preschool, 860 102nd Ave. N., that another student's father, 29-year-old Anthony Dinatale, took nude photos of her in the school bathroom with his cell phone and wiped her genitals with toilet paper, according to Collier County Sheriff's Office reports. Dinatale is the stepson of the school's owner, Kathy Dinatale.

Authorities say the two teachers did not tell Kathy Dinatale about the alleged abuse until two days later.

The Sheriff's Office began investigating the case on March 23. While examining Anthony Dinatale's cell phone, they retrieved two photos of young girls' genitalia that had been deleted.

Anthony Dinatale, 6147 English Oaks Blvd., Golden Gate Estates, was arrested the next day on two counts of manufacturing child pornography and one count of lewd molestation.

Investigators identified the second victim whose photo was on Anthony Dinatale's phone as a 4-year-old girl who also attended the school. That photo was dated March 6.

The Sheriff's Office reported Wednesday that Anthony Dinatale may face additional but similar charges after investigators uncovered information not related to the preschool.

Zelman said the 5-year-old is doing "much better than her parents."

"Our clients are very proud of their 5-year-old daughter and what she did after this event," Zelman said. "She told her teachers just like her parents would have wanted her to do. Unfortunately nobody at the school talked to anyone outside the school that week."

Zelman said that the girl's mother called Kathy Dinatale on March 23, left a message, and then called police.

"I'm not aware of any information that anybody at the Ann Phillips Preschool went to the police or had any plans to go to the police," Zelman said.

The Collier County Sheriff's Office confirmed Wednesday that no one from the school ever reported the allegations. By law, day care and preschool providers are required to report allegations of abuse.

"The first we heard about this was from the girl's mom," Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Michelle Batten said. "Kathy Dinatale never called us to report it."

When reached on the phone, Kathy Dinatale declined an interview.

"At this point I can't make any comments. I'm just cooperating with authorities," she said before hanging up the phone.

The Florida Department of Children and Families closed the preschool indefinitely after Anthony Dinatale's arrest and is conducting an investigation. It remained closed on Wednesday while investigators gathered records of staff-to-student ratios, staff training and background checks, DCF spokeswoman Erin Gillespie said.

"There is no time frame right now to reopen," Gillespie said. "We are still doing our investigation."

Zelman said his firm is investigating a possible lawsuit against Ann Phillips Preschool. He said the 5-year-old's parents thought their daughter would be safe at the school.

"They do believe that parents need to be aware of what occurred," Zelman said, "and whatever decisions parents make should be based on facts."

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Zelman & Hanlon, P.A. Florida Legal Elite 2013 ABA American Bar Association