Brett Bartolotta, 42, was a volunteer firefighter and Frank Meyer, 39, a 911 dispatcher. But these Connecticut first responders had a secret. They were allegedly grooming a young Vermont boy to participate in their sexual fantasies.
"This is a tremendous violation of trust," said Tom Powell, a forensic psychologist. "This is not the way adults are supposed to act toward kids."
In the close-knit community of Ludlow, many knew and liked Bartolotta.
"I'm shocked because that's never the person I thought he was," said Suzanne Strong of Ludlow.
Bartolotta would travel from Connecticut to his Ludlow condo before becoming a full-time Cavendish resident about a decade ago. Strong says Bartolotta frequented the convenience store where she works.
"I thought he was a very nice guy," Strong said. "I had no idea. I don't think anybody in town did because everyone has been talking about it."
Police say Bartolotta first lured the boy to his Ludlow condo when he was 12 years old, forcing him to perform bondage and group sex acts in exchange for cash and gifts. The boy told police Bartolotta was like a father to him.
"If you have an adult who is playing the role well, it's pretty easy to get a 12-year-old boy to hang out with you, want to be with you, admire you and develop strong, positive feelings toward you," Powell said.
Powell says this may explain why the victim remained silent about the abuse for the next 12 years.
"The kid comes to believe that telling on the adult is to essentially tell on himself," Powell said.
Eventually, police say Bartolotta invited his friend Frank Meyer to join in the abuse. Police say Meyer also paid the boy for sexual favors. Investigators call the case disturbing.
"The abuse of a minor the fact that he was robbed of his childhood," Vt. State Police Det. Sgt. Barbara Zonay said.
The victim told police he had up to 400 sexual encounters with Meyer before he was 16 and twice as many with Bartolotta. Prosecutors charged the men with aggravated sex assault, slave trafficking and prostitution. Allegations they both deny.
Bartolotta was released on $50,000 bail. Friday afternoon he answered the door to his Cavendish home and told us he was advised not to speak to the media. He says at this point he's just focused on getting himself a lawyer.
Reporter Jennifer Reading: Do you think there could be other victims... in Vermont? In other states?
Det. Sgt. Barbara Zonay: That's definitely a possibility and we're looking into it, and the investigation is continuing.
It appears Meyer also made bail. The men are scheduled to return to court in two weeks.
Police told me this case is far from over. Vermont investigators are now working with Connecticut authorities looking for potential victims or witnesses in both states. They say the men could face additional charges if more evidence surfaces. Time is obviously not on their side. They say getting witnesses to remember decade-old details can be challenging. The victim, however, agreed to wear a wire during a sting operation. Meyer was allegedly caught on tape reminiscing about old sexual experiences with the victim. And police say Bartolotta confessed to having a sexual relationship with the boy when pressed by investigators working the case.
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